Report: Schools, teacher ed programs ignore how kids really learn
This post was written by James P. Comer, associate dean of medicine at Yale University and co-founder of the Yale Child Study Center School Development Program, and Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
At the request of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, with funding from a partnership between the Foundation for Child Development and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Comer and Pianta co-chaired a panel on developmental science issues for the national organization responsible for assuring the quality of programs that educate the nation’s teachers and school leaders.
The panel produced a report, "The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Help Educators Improve Student Achievement: Policy Recommendations," summarizing the panel’s two reports, all of which can be found here. It was released today.
By James Comer and Robert Pianta
Good teachers have always understood that students don’t learn in a vacuum: Kids can’t learn efficiently if they have to walk a gauntlet of gang thugs every day on the way to school, or if they suffer mental problems, or they were up half the night cowering from domestic violence.
Now a growing amount of developmental research confirms that as many of half of all students become chronically disengaged, contributing to the high dropout rates and achievement gaps that have plagued our schools for a generation.
There is good news: Research also shows that squarely addressing students’ emotional, social, and cognitive needs improves learning.
The problem is that this research isn’t being put to wide use.
So the question is this: What can educators and schools do to help students from challenging family backgrounds, or those who simply lack the motivation to learn?
That’s what we set out to answer in a new report commissioned by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and released today.
What we found was discouraging. Despite big advances in our understanding of how children and adolescents grow and learn, little of that knowledge has found its way into schools or educator preparation programs. If teachers don’t know how to address their students’ emotional, cognitive, and social needs, they face an uphill battle in improving student achievement, especially among “at-risk” populations facing persistent achievement gaps.
The blame lies mostly in the legacy of public education’s century-old roots, including the emphasis on outdated, industrial-era models of instruction and discipline. But over the last two decades, we’ve developed a strong base of research that compels us to be much more purposeful about putting actionable developmental knowledge in educators’ hands.
In classrooms where teachers address children’s individual emotional and social needs, you’ll see students doing challenging work at their own pace, either in groups or individually, as the teacher actively monitors and encourages their progress.
Research has shown a clear connection between these kinds of environments and student learning: A meta-analysis of 213 school programs that use developmentally focused approaches found an 11 percentile-point gain in student achievement, as well as reduced behavioral issues. Places where we’ve put such programs into place, such as Asheville City Schools in North Carolina, have also seen achievement gaps between black and white students narrow rapidly.
While such gains are encouraging, they are isolated. And we have failed to help teachers meld cognitive and social-development knowledge with instruction that also reflects what students are expected to know and be able to do.
Making matters worse, we’ve also failed to make these connections an integral part of what teachers learn as they prepare to enter the profession. Until we create a systemic way to verse teachers in developmental principles, we’ll be stuck with the scattershot approach to improving instruction that’s characterized much of education reform.
Putting our new developmental knowledge to work in classrooms will require more than just revising education textbooks. Translating scientific knowledge into educational practice takes research and real-world testing to identify teaching strategies that directly apply our understanding of students’ developmental needs.
The “connective tissue” bridging the world of scientific research and classroom instruction will need to be developed in schools of education, as will tools allowing prospective teachers to learn and test these practices in real-work settings before they enter their own classrooms.
We have an incredibly important opportunity to take this rapidly growing base of scientific knowledge and find the best ways to bring it to the classroom.
That’s especially critical in low-performing schools, where the evidence suggests that culturally specific knowledge of student development can help turn around schools serving high-poverty, high-need communities. The alternative is unacceptable: If we do not integrate what we know about how children grow and learn, we run the risk of losing another generation of learners.
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| October 5, 2010; 12:11 PM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Learning, Research | Tags: achievement gap, education research, james comer, research, robert pianita, student achievement, teacher education, teacher evaluation, teacher quality
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