Tuesday, October 9

Research Partnership conference raises more questions than answers

On Friday I went to the inaugural conference of the Research Partnership for New York City Schools. The conference was as wonky as you can get, replete with powerpoints, bar graphs, and correlation coefficients, and the attendees were the education elite of the city.

Conference-goers heard from leaders of the Chicago research group on which the new partnership is based. Researchers also presented three papers as examples of the work the consortium will do. The first looked at the movement patterns of ineffective teachers, concluding that weak teachers in weak schools leave teaching entirely while weak teachers in strong schools transfer to positions at weaker schools. The second paper examined demand for high school programs based on the numbers reported in the high school directory. Those researchers found that a school's reputation is the strongest determinant of how many applications a school will receive — no surprise there for parents and kids who have applied gone through the high school application process! A third paper rehashed some of the data about school funding that the chancellor cited earlier this year when introducing the Fair Student Funding formula, with the researchers recommending that evaluation of the funding change should start now.

One panelist noted with pleasure that contrary to her expectations, the research papers did not solely focus on test scores. Given the role test scores have grown to occupy in driving the city's reform efforts, I agree that it was a relief to hear other issues discussed for a change. But I wonder whether conducting research on the periphery of the DOE's reform agenda will preclude the consortium from having a real impact on it. At the very least, the fact that test scores weren't on the rada may indicate a gulf between researchers and reformers. I agreed with Chancellor Klein and UFT President Randi Weingarten, also on the panel: the challenge of the research group won't be to ask interesting questions and mine the data for answers — that will be the easy part — but to make the research findings intelligible and useful for teachers, principals, parents, and students.

No comments: