[NLA] Can research improve policy or practice?
Regie D Stites
regie.stites at sri.com
Thu Nov 8 21:55:57 EST 2001
As usual, Tom Sticht is posing some tough and useful questions for us
all to ponder. However, the picture he paints of the impacts of
investments in adult literacy research is not merely "overly
pessimistic," it is also misleading. Let's add a little realism to
Tom's abstract expressionist portrait. We can start with the dollars.
Tom points to spending of $50 million over 10-12 years. That sounds
like a lot of money until you consider the fact that it averages out to
less than $5 million a year for research and development for an
educational system that has served (taking the low side of Tom's
numbers) at least 2.5 million people a year. So instead of wasting all
that money on research we should have bought each adult learner a couple
of pencils and a notebook maybe? I don't mean to trivialize, $50
million is a lot of money, but we need to put that investment in
The second bit of realism I would like to add to Tom's chilling
representation (perhaps it should be titled "the void in the depths of
the abyss of research-based improvements in adult literacy practice") is
to blur the hard line that he has drawn between research and practice.
Practitioners (otherwise known as teachers and program administrators)
participated as integral partners in a lot of the research that was paid
for with that $50 million. My guess is that they made the research
better and more useful by participating (as researchers) and probably
learned something in the process. Also, most of that research was
actually not basic research but was R&D that resulted in one or more
products. I wouldn't argue that we don't need basic research, but if
you are going to pose the question of what research has done to improve
practice you can't ignore the development side. We can argue about the
value of product like "Crossroads Cafe" or the EFF Content Standards,
but I have seen both of these research-based products in use and can
point to data that shows they have a positive impact on practice.
Of course, I don't want to paint an overly rosey picture. Tom raises
some legitimate concerns - but let's step back and see the big picture.
Tom says that R&D centers "offer very little, if any, concrete,
convincing evidence that some teaching/learning problems are solved or
improved by anyone who possesses the knowledge given in the numerous
reports" and he asks us for "convincing evidence" that investments in
R&D lead to improved practice. This sounds more like a challenge from a
concerned consumer than from a researcher - but as a researcher I wonder
if Tom could perhaps lead the way and show us what he means by
"convincing evidence" with examples of how his own research has improved
practice. That would be a useful contribution in my book.
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