At the Chalkface: A Challenge to Education Researchers

For the most part, I read education research like I learned to read it: A bit of introduction, skim methods and results, cut right to the discussion and conclusions. When I was doing my dissertation, I was skimming hundreds of articles and simply didn’t have the time to read every word, unless it was some good stuff.

Now it’s a force of habit.

I was just reading through a Kohli and Pizarro (2016) study on increasing the diversity in the teaching profession, and some of the challenges therein.

I want to first commend the authors, or whomever, on making this research available. But I actually read this piece all the way through, paying particular attention to what we should do next. This is the point where most education research, qualitative mainly, gets weak. We hear about epistemology and ontology, shift and change our world views. Once we have this information dropped on us, we’re looking for answers. Clamoring for something we can get our hands on. Then what happens?

Let’s take a look at the discussion and conclusion, on getting teachers of color a greater voice in leadership decisions:

Schools can manifest this by (1) ensuring that teachers of Color have a place on school leadership teams, (2) seeking advice on school policy from teachers of Color who have strong relationships with students and their families, and, (3) investing in the growth of teachers of Color around their own professional goals (p. 82).

This sounds great. I totally agree, but to whom are these recommendations being written? To teachers? To leaders? Administrators? Policy-makers? Not only are these conclusions redundant, they don’t seem at all incisive nor do they acknowledge the current policy and political climates most teachers in urban schools, in which many are teachers of color, find themselves.

In Washington, DC, there is absolutely no foundation on which to base these recommendations. For recommendation one, schools with majority teachers of color, particularly those in Wards 7 and 8, already have teachers of color on leadership teams and in administration. However, the culture of fear based on teacher evaluation is so pervasive that teachers of any color or background are reluctant to even take a day off when they’re sick, let alone challenge leadership in any significant way.

For recommendation two, school policies are completely out of the hands of actual teachers. As I’ve been told before, “crap flows down stream.” Admin receive their orders and teachers do in turn. Given the top-down hierarchical structure, from the Mayor, to the Chancellor, and on down, there is very little hope for teachers to actually inform policy decisions.

For recommendation three, most professional development, if not all, is directed by the district based on district goals. It is rarely differentiated or customized. Schools are by and large told to focus on math and reading goals, especially those with low test scores. Therefore, PD for all teachers in the district focuses specifically on improve academic outcomes only. Teacher “professional goals” are district-wide goals, they are not exclusive.

My challenge then to researchers would be to make sure there is some actual meat to recommendations. Spend fewer words on that conceptual framework and write like you actually know what’s going on in schools so that we can really do something about it.

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Shaun Johnson

After four years in higher education, Shaun Johnson now teaches Kindergarten in Southeast Washington, DC. Shaun earned his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University and researches and publishes about gender in education, social studies, and education reform. He blogs at @ the Chalkface.