Can Researchers and Practitioners Dance Together? Part 2

Getting some good emails about my last post. Orin helpfully observed:

Love that after spending less than a week in Pennsylvania (I'm visiting my parents) you're having flashbacks to your elementary school dance experiences. It's like the Jewish PTSD version of "The Deer Hunter."

And with that, Part 2. Let’s end the 5th grade dance, where quant researchers are on one side of the gym, and the teachers are on the other. We need a prom. People actually dance together at the prom.

(To anticipate Orin's question -- I did go to the prom. Although I would concede that my date and I didn't dance that much. Luckily, there were some Ben Stiller moments. Like before the prom, when I thought "a corsage" meant "very very small bouquet. I was shocked when my date pinned it on her dress. Also, there was a tearful bonding moment in my mom's carefully washed Pontiac station wagon after the prom. *J told me about some problems with her family. Then, depressed about her state of affairs, she asked if I could drive her home so she wouldn't "bring me down at the party.")

So I'm talking about a prom where, you know, lots of couples actually dance. Like the picture.

What would a research-practitioner prom look like?

I’m part of a Harvard-led study group called The Futures Of School Reform. It includes a bunch of academics, some policymakers, and a few practitioners. We get together every 6 months or so.

At some of those meetings, Harvard’s Richard Elmore outlined an R&D vision that I buy: “Real solutions for real teachers in real time.”

I like that. I think that we should have more randomized trials about teaching -- in addition to the sort of teachers-helping-teachers stuff that MathTeacher wrote in the comments section of my original post.

If we’re going to make this sort of research actually happen, we need to find how to reduce the transaction costs associated with empirical research on the stuff teachers actually do each day.

And this idea isn’t new. Back in 2000, David Cohen, Stephen Raudenbush, and Deborah Ball (she's now dean of UMich) wrote a paper called Resources, Instruction, and Research. It was later included in the 2002 book Evidence Matters -- all about randomized trials in education. The authors that we need to study, you know, teacher-made decisions.

The question for research should not be the one which most researchers concerned with school effects or the economics of education have asked, namely: “How do the available resources affect learning?”

The first question should be: “What instructional approach, embedded in what instructional goals, is sufficient to insure that students achieve those goals?”

They go on to argue:

...(We could make accurate causal inference about instructional effects only by reconceiving and then redesigning instruction as a “regime” and comparing it to different regimes. That suggests a more restricted role for survey research than has recently been the case in education and a larger role for experimental and quasiexperimental research.

But if such studies offer a better grip on causality, they are more difficult to design and instrument, and more costly to undertake.

That's my point! We got to bring those transaction costs down. And to do that, we need to understand those transaction costs. I will tackle that issue tomorrow, describing 3 types of transaction costs from a randomized experiment we ran this summer on parent communication.