I often write blog posts where I reflect on research evidence. I think it is important for teachers to engage with research and I will explain why.
Old Andrew, a UK blogger, recently wrote a post about the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the evidence it presents on setting and streaming (between-class ability grouping). It was a interesting piece, critical of the EEF’s approach.
The EEF presents itself as an authority for teachers and school leaders to go to in order to find the best evidence available on what works in education. The EEF data and model have been adopted by Evidence for Learning (E4L) in Australia and this comes at a time when we are just about to hear the results of the ‘Gonski 2.0’ review which will presumably offer proposals to make education more evidence-informed.
So this represents a moment of potential shift, where we might start to embrace the use of evidence. However, if that places power in the hands of a few curators of evidence such as the EEF, E4L and John Hattie, then there is also a potential risk.
All of these approaches use meta-analysis, a process that generates overall effect sizes for particular interventions and then ranks these interventions on these effect sizes. Plenty can go wrong here. Effect sizes don’t just vary by type of intervention, they vary by age of student, range of student abilities, whether students take standardised or experimenter-designed tests and by the design of the study (see e.g. discussion here)
In addition, curators have a choice in how to group studies and this may reflect implicit biases. Education is a contested field and ideology runs deep. For instance, I have questioned whether the EEF’s category of ‘metacognition and self-regulation’ is justified.
Which is why we need teacher-bloggers more than ever. We have a different take on what works and, like Old Andrew, we are placed to ask difficult and necessary questions.
If you’re not convinced then the reaction to Old Andrew should give you pause for thought. His blog post was Tweeted by Nick Gibb, a UK schools minister, causing an outpouring of rage on Twitter. One education academic asked why Gibb was listening to a ‘mere blogger’.
Now imagine a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer writing a blog post about research in their area of professional practice and imagine an academic dismissing them as a ‘mere blogger’. It seems unlikely, and this tells us something about the relative status of teaching.
Perhaps it is a shock because it is so unusual. But we need more teacher engagement of this kind if we are going to benefit from the push for evidence.