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“Research” Based.

I only knew about the National Math Advisory Panel Report from the blogosphere. But, since I was on vacation, I went ahead and read it. All 120 pages of it.

And the one thing that struck me is a peeve I’ve had from my day one as a teacher: They repeatedly called for reliable research. Of the hundreds of studies they pored through, only a couple dozen qualified as valid research.

I used to try to amuse my self at professional development meetings by asking for cites to the research every time someone said “research based”. That got really frakking boring after about 2 months. For all the talk of research, you never actually get to see any of it. The one time that I did, it was a case study at a 120 person (each class had 60 kids) culturally homogeneous school in Minnesota. No control, margins of error almost as large as the data set (they actually had graphs that they did linear regressions on – they looked like a spear going through a cloud).

I want research. I started off as a physics major before I went into engineering. In the public sector, I worked for companies that lived and died by research. I’m not sure that what I’ve seen in the education field qualifies as research. As math teachers, we are supposed to understand the language of statistics, patterns, and measurement. If anyone should be able to tell the difference between useful and complete garbage, it should be us. I’m sad to say, though, that I have seen very little of it in the education field, and the stuff I have seen seems to say that all that other research based stuff doesn’t actually work.

The most striking thing about the report was that they could draw very few reliable conclusions, and most of their recommendations were for further areas of (rigorous) study.

Among the things they did agree on: teacher quality makes a difference, math teachers need high levels of content knowledge, spiraling sucks, and textbooks need to be trimmed down. I’m down with all of that. I’m just wondering how this thing is going to either be spun or red taped to make it completely useless.

{ 7 } Comments

  1. diarykid | March 25, 2008 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    “Among the things they did agree on: teacher quality makes a difference, math teachers need high levels of content knowledge”

    That’s kinda funny, since I’ve had 2 principals tell me that content knowledge doesn’t matter & that classroom management & being a good employee are all that matter for a teacher. One told me, “Anyone can learn the content.” and the other one said (in a faculty meeting) “We want you to be good employees. Anyone who is a good employee can learn to be a good teacher.” (and by good employee, they meant following the dress code, getting to work on time, filling out forms correctly, etc.)

    But I think you’re right on target – those are all good results. Let’s see if they can implement any of those ideas.

  2. Sarah | March 25, 2008 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as someone who is considering going into research, I’m impressed you have the time to read any of it. I keep saving articles, but never seem to make it to them. Maybe it’s the first year thing, but I feel like there’s so much that I’m missing.

    People at our staff meetings are more likely to hand us internet articles (where the citations are still often shaky) than to tell us anything. Even so I love the image of you asking for citations enough that I might have to pull it myself.

  3. Mr K. | March 25, 2008 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    more likely to hand us internet articles

    See, that’s the problem. When you ask for research, you’ll get something which either has no references, or if it’s original research, won’t discuss methodology, or if it does, is fatally flawed.

    I am by no means an expert on research design.

    I have a couple of friends, very bright friends, who have taken graduate level courses in research design. They are not experts, but they know more than me. And they can corroborate my misgivings, which means that the people who are actually conducting these “studies” are somewhere below someone who has to go to amateurs for help on the actual capability scale.

    On a related note, we had a reform expert talk at our faculty meeting today. He looked at 5 years worth of data, and drew some startling (to me) conclusions.

    I may ask our principal if he could arrange a sitdown with me so that I might ask some in depth questions.

    You’d think I’d learn not to stick my neck out.

  4. H. | March 25, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Even in ed class, which is supposedly at a graduate level, a classmate and I quickly found that asking instructors about the basis for statements made would make the instructor defensive, even when the question was meant as a straightforward prompt for more information. There was no culture for referring to actual studies to back up what we were learning. Questions were interpreted as attacks.

    I’ve wondered aloud earlier about whether there is body of research on math misconceptions that parallels the work on standard misconceptions in Physics, and whether the reason why I haven’t stumbled across such research means that it doesn’t exist. It just seems so improbable that, worldwide, there wouldn’t be useful studies on, say, the development of the number line concept. How can that not have been done? I’ve read studies about how the way teachers talk about resistors affects students’ conceptions about resistors’ roles in the circuit – can it really be that parallel work does not exist for math?

    From one thing to another – I read the article you linked to over at Todd Seal’s on how competence is necessary to evaluate your own competence. Great read. Hope you keep your reading list public.

  5. H. | March 26, 2008 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I guess my comment got stuck in the spam filter due to including too many links.

  6. Penelope Millar | March 26, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    This one annoys me a lot too. There’s a second peeve that goes with it—even when there is good research, it seems like the majority of it is at the elementary level. I constantly got told to do things because they were research-based in my ed. classes and yet all the research was on how they worked with elementary school students. Nobody had proved that the same would work with high school students OR could help me figure out how to adapt it to high schoolers.

    I often see people online saying things like “there are clear, research-based ways to teach, why don’t more people use them?” I think the problem is that most of us don’t have the time/understanding to sort through the research, figure out what’s valid, and figure out how to implement it. Should that be the classroom teacher’s job? Or is there someone else whose job it should be?

  7. JackieB | March 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Show me the research! Long live the large “n”!

    Seriously, at the beginning of the year at our all staff meeting the rationale for a new policy was being presented to us. A study had been done. It was shown to have a correlation. Not a strong one mind you, just a correlation. The r value was .05. ARGH!!!!