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Tom Wilson

Practice-Based Inquiry®


Brings Solutions to Education Reform Dilemmas

Improves Student Learning While Reducing Costs

American public schools must both reduce costs and raise student learning.

Most Americans assume that this is impossible. Yet, Marc Tucker's recent international study of national policies and school improvement challenges the inevitability of American assumptions. Effective and major reforms in the nations have significantly enhanced student learning and reduced costs.  The United States is not one of them.

"Perhaps the most important discovery is that other countries have not only figured out how to get greater quality and far more equity, but they have figured out how to do that while spending substantially less than we do. They have not done it by doing a better job than we of managing the way we do. They have done it by adopting a very different way to organize the work of schooling."
MarkTucker, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants…., 2011, p.29.

This does not mean all of them have adopted PBI!

But, it is true that none of these countries has considered standardized tests scores as the "coin of the realm." All of them have insisted that research must grapple with the realities of actual school and classroom practice and that research findings must actually serve practitioners rather than focus mostly on abstract theories and policies.

Practice-Based Inquiry provides a proven example of school research that is built upon similar purposes. 

Further, working assumptions of Practice-Based Inquiry are consistent with important aspects of the central conclusions of the Cohen/Moffitt analysis of how well American federal education policy has moved schools forward over the last 35 years.  Link to earlier discussion The Ordeal of Equality: Did Federal Policy Fix Our Schools? (2009).

The people and organizations that constitute practice must do the most important work. (p. 228)

Change of this scope and depth …depends on devising ways for individuals, organizations, and systems to learn systematically from experience. (p. 230)

This example makes this point more concrete. A current operating assumption in education research methodology is that research results that are used for accountability purposes must be more "objective" than information that is generated for professional development purposes. This assumption supports establishing two organizational structures with different functions and skills: one for holding teachers accountable and a second for supporting practitioner training and professional development.

A central objective of Practice-Based Inquiry methodology is to generate valid information about actual school and classroom practice. This knowledge generated by a visit serves the purposes of both accountability and professional development, and because it serves both objectives, it served each one of them more powerfully. Accountability advocates gain knowledge from their actual practice. School improvement strategist gain a much higher degree of certainty that their knowledge base about the quality of what actually happens in schools is legitimate and more likely to result in effective planning and professional development exercises.

These methodological assumptions of PBI provide an enormous potential for thoughtfully merging assessment with professional development in a way that both increases impact and reduces costs.

More detail on this complex argument is available in the following Catalpa documents:

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