A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Prisoners of Time: Research - September 1994
The Unanswered Questions
As the Commission conducted its work, it became clear that a good deal of valuable research was available to guide its deliberations. The preceding chapters reflect the scope and breadth of research examined on a number of key questions.
However, little or inadequate research was available on a number of other significant questions. The purpose of this chapter is to outline some of those questions as topics for further investigation.
The lists of questions which follow are not intended to reflect the full range of issues that need to be addressed by the research community. They do, however, suggest some of the areas in which additional research is needed to guide education policy and practice.
For many of the unanswered questions, research is appropriate. In other cases, it may be appropriate to invest in the development of carefully designed demonstrations which can contribute to our level of understanding. For example, several of the questions related to standards and technology may require the development of models, strategies, or methods that can be studied in practice.
In addition, both the research reviewed in the previous chapters and the questions outlined here suggest the critical importance of maintaining a focus on student and teacher learning in both research and practice. For example, the research on site-based decision making suggests that it makes little sense to involve teachers in the time-consuming governance of schools if they are not focusing on issues of curriculum and instruction. It makes little sense to invest large amounts of money in professional development of teachers if the strategies supported do not provide teachers with the learning opportunities they need to better their teaching.
Both the research reviewed in earlier chapters and the unanswered questions presented here suggest the need for a parallel focus on the quality of student learning. We need to ask whether and how the particular strategy being considered will make a difference in student performance both in school and later as students become workers and citizens. Research should help us understand how the issues being studied affect student learning.
Finally, as the introduction to this document indicated, research was not reviewed on three recommendations made by the Commission, all of which call for action. However, the questions presented in this chapter suggest a critical need to study what is currently happening in the reform movement. As the federal government, states, and school districts invest in reform, we need to know what is working and what is not. We need to reflect upon and use what is learned from the efforts we undertake.
We need to understand the processes for developing effective local plans to transform schools within the context of Goals 2000. We need to know what roles government, higher education, business, private foundations, social and civic organizations, parents, students, and teachers should play. We need to study the various approaches being taken and build on what works.
The questions outlined here are arranged according to the topics reviewed in previous chapters. They are not presented in priority order within each category. Rather, they reflect a range of issues to be addressed if we are to have the information necessary for future decision making.
Reclaim the Academic Day
- How rigorous are the courses students are required to take to meet current state requirements in academic areas? How much non-academic activity goes on behind ostensibly academic course titles and school schedules? Exactly what are students expected to know and be able to do in this country? Are the standards different for students with different characteristics? How do we compare with other countries?
- How is time actually spent in schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? What variations are there and what effects do they have on student performance? What kinds of non-academic activities occur in schools? How do they affect the uses of time?
- What do parents, teachers, and the general public view as the purposes of education? Are there differences among groups? Are there different views for the elementary, middle, and high school levels?
- How do the curricula and schedules of high-quality private schools differ from public schools? Are there differences among public schools in various regions of the country?
- What state mandates stand in the way or provide no incentives to focus on academic learning? What rules, administrative procedures, and legislation do states put in place that support or hinder improvement?
- To what extent, and in what form do other countries establish or promote national content standards in the core subjects? Are there significant regional variations in such standards or in the curricula to achieve the standards? What subjects are held to national standards? What is perceived as important for all students to know and be able to do?
- How are national standards established in other countries? Who composes and issues them? What is the process used to reach consensus?
- In other countries, are the standards the same for all students? If not, how do they differ and for whom? Is the curriculum the same for all students? If not, how does it differ and for whom? Is there a partial common core? What is it? How are "tracks" arrived at? What percentage of each age group is in each track? What percentage of students complete secondary school and what percent go on to further education and what sort of education? What are the admission requirements in other countries for each sort of post-secondary education?
- In other countries, what are the methods of assessing student performance at various grade levels? How are they related to the standards and the curriculum? What are the stakes?
- What changes in the standards or in their application are being considered by other nations? Is there active opposition to the standards and their influence? What are the points of controversy?
- How are standards in other nations used to shape the curriculum from the earliest grades through secondary schools?
- In the United States, what percent of the total amount of money spent by school districts for the education of children (in terms of teacher time, facilities, and materials) is actually used to support academic versus non-academic activities? How does that compare with how funds are used in other countries?
- How are funds for education in the United States and other countries allocated among grades, subjects, texts and materials, special education programs, teacher salaries, administrative costs, school maintenance, family aid, and capital expenditures?
Fix the Design Flaw
- The design flaw refers to providing equal amounts of time for students who learn at different rates. To what extent are American schools experimenting with different time configurations (e.g. alternative schedules, different amounts of time for different students, school years longer than 180 days, graduation based on performance)? What are the effects on student performance?
- What common methods and conditions support high levels of academic learning for both at-risk and gifted and talented students?
- What are effective strategies for developing students' motivation to learn? To what extent are they subject-specific? What can be done in classrooms, and what needs to be done in the home and community?
- What is the nature of teaching and learning in countries with particularly high test scores and how does it differ from that in the United States? What do classrooms look like? What does the curriculum look like? What is the nature of interaction between teacher and student?
- What are the effects of school size on academic performance, retention, morale, vandalism, student behavior, parent involvement, and efficient use of time?
- How can technology best be used to support teaching and learning? Are there counterproductive uses of technology for learning? To what extent is time wasted on engaging but insignificant material? What strategies and methods are most productive?
- Are different uses of technology more productive for different subjects? How can technology be used to help students acquire the essential knowledge and skills in mathematics? In English? In history, and other academic subjects?
Keep Schools Open Longer to Meet the Needs of Children and Communities
- Beyond a sound grounding in academics, what do students need to learn to be effective workers and citizens? How can schools and other organizations working with schools structure time beyond the academic day to help students acquire the knowledge, skills, and habits they need? How would we characterize quality time in before-and-after school programs? What can we do in extended school programs to help students become motivated, life-long learners?
- What effect do extended school hours have on rates of crimeand delinquency and on the safety of youth? What are the effects of a broader array of academic and social services on the fabric of the community?
- What kinds of homework contribute most to student learning? Are some kinds of activities students could do outside of school more productive than others? Are different kinds of independent work more productive in some subjects (e.g. mathematics, science, history) than others?
- How can teachers make and keep the link between work done inside and outside the classroom? What can teachers do in class to capitalize on the work students do at home so that students see the relevance of their independent work?
- Given the fact that today's parents do have less time to spend with their children, how can that time be used most productively to help their children?
- What barriers exist at the federal, state, and local levels to prevent or frustrate the integrated delivery of health and social services to students? What policies are required to bring necessary services to students? How can the various agencies involved be held accountable?
Give Teachers the Professional Time and Opportunities They Need to Do Their Jobs
- How much time do teachers need to translate the high academic standards currently being set into effective classroom practice? How can teachers best be supported in their efforts to restructure the teaching and learning environment to support the learning of all students to high levels? What do they need to learn, both in subject matter and pedagogy?
- To what extent are schools asking teachers to cover morematerial than is possible in the time available? What is the range of decisions teachers make in selecting what to include and what to leave out? What effects do those decisions have on student motivation and performance?
- Research has found that it often takes a long time for teachers to learn how to use technology in ways that support student learning of higher-order thinking skills. Research also has found that most teachers learn how to use technology on their own, with little assistance from schools. How much less time would be required for teachers to become effective in using technology if (a) they had a thorough understanding of the content and structure of their disciplines and (b) they were given expert guidance in using technology productively?
- How much time do teachers spend on non instructional tasks? What options are there for paraprofessionals?
- How much time and what kinds of programs will it take to educate teachers in subject matter to the level of world class standards? What can we learn from teacher education programs abroad?
- How do the national standards and the curriculum of other countries shape the selection, education, certification,and professional development of teachers?
- How and when do teachers in other countries learn what they need to learn to be effective? What is the nature of preservice education? How and what do they learn? What is the nature of on-the-job learning? How and what do they learn?
- How much money is actually spent on professional development in this country? What do states, school districts, schools, and individual teachers actually spend and for what? How could that money be reallocated to support an integrated approach to professional development?
[Chapter Four - Give Teachers the Professional Time and Opportunities They Need to Do Their Jobs ]