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Teachers Network in the News

Research Into Practice:
False Hope, Best Evidence, and the Practitioner

To the Editor:

As classroom teachers and researchers, we feel compelled to respond to the Commentary "From Research to Practice" (March 12, 2003). While we agree that the authors are asking important questions-How desirable is evidence-based practice in education? Why do educators and policy leaders frequently fail to utilize education research?- we feel that their proposed solutions miss the mark in at least two areas.

    First, the "education-knowledge industry" described by the authors leaves out a very valuable, and untapped, source of education knowledge: practitioner- researchers. Second, the authors state that "Educators ... will have to learn, accept, and apply what 'best evidence' demonstrates to be effective." Our question is, whose "best evidence"? And why is the burden placed on educators to learn, accept, and apply?

    Educational research is not like other sciences. Teaching and learning are incredibly complex. What may have been shown to be an effective method in one part of the country, or with one group of students, may not transfer to another. There are too many variables involved to "scientifically control for" them all and make any definitive claims about what works and doesn't work in every single classroom setting.

    We think researchers should make their data and results accessible, as advocated in your Page 1 article a week later, "Scholars Aim to Connect Studies to Schools' Needs" (March 19, 2003).

    This article emphasizes that "one of the big problems in educational research is that people haven't understood the need to take research one step further and translate it to usable knowledge." It also explains the position of those who advocate "ongoing collaboration between researchers and practitioners, so that researchers address the questions frontline educators are asking."

    These ideas make a great deal of sense to us, as we have engaged in "action" research in our respective classrooms for the past five years. Our research results have informed our own practice and that of numerous colleagues both at the local and national levels, through our work with the Teachers Network Policy Institute, conference presentations, committee memberships, and publishing. Educators can read our results and weigh our information against their own contexts, because we address relevant questions and produce data that are both accessible and usable, as well as understandable.

    We wonder why our work, and that of our practitioner colleagues, continues to be overlooked as a source of understandable and usable knowledge about teaching and learning. So we were delighted to see the eloquent description of TNPI and the important forum it provides for the teacher's voice in policy research and decisionmaking in her recent letter to the editor (Whither Teachers? Trying to Be Heard, Letters, March 26, 2003).

    We encourage practitioner researchers to seek out opportunities to make their voices heard. After all, classroom teachers are the true educational experts.

Jane Ching Fung
National Board-Certified Teacher
Milken Educator, 2002
Los Angeles, Calif.

Gail V. Ritchie
National Board-Certified Teacher
Fairfax County Teacher of the Year, 2000
Fairfax, Va.


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