No Child Left Behind:
Research and the Art of Teaching
Enactment of the No Child Left Behind
Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110) will ensure that all children
learn by supporting educational activities evaluated by “scientifically-based
research”. Teachers beware. The salvation offered by
this plan is both limited and long-range. It is limited because,
at present, only a handful of practices meet the “scientifically-based” test.
The academic strategies include one-on-one tutoring for at-risk
students in reading, as well as teaching phonemic awareness,
phonics instruction, guided oral reading with feedback, and
peer tutoring in kindergarten and elementary reading and mathematics.
High quality preschool experiences, evaluated over the long
term (1962 interventions evaluated 20 and more years later)
improve a variety of life outcomes for at risk children, and “Life
Skills Training” in junior high has been shown to reduce
tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and illicit drug use. Effects in
the preschool and Life Skills research were analyzed over many
decades. This is surely long range.
Let’s not leave today’s
children behind while we wait for scientific validation of
known educational effects. All of the academic effects noted
above involve relationships between an instructor, a child,
and some material to be learned. The more intimate, detailed,
and knowing these relationships are the more the child will
The Report of the Coalition for
Evidence-Based Policy (November 2002) recommends that the
U.S. Department of Education develop a strategy of “randomized trials” to
determine the efficacy of various educational practices.
A good idea perhaps, but in many ways limited, and definitely
most useful in the long range. Randomized trials involve
random assignment of children to a group that experiences
the practice to be tested or a control group. Presumably
the practices under test are believed to be very good for
children. How do we justify offering these practices to only
some children? What instruction will the others receive?
Another problem: How do you measure success? Standardized
tests are often the answer, but limitations in such tests are
apparent. Can we really effectively test the educational progress
we value most in children?
And another: Will all teachers deliver the educational practice
under study in the same way? Perhaps not. In fact, should they?
Children are individuals: teachers vary in style...in ways
they seek to reach children. Such variation might or might
not undermine the research agenda, while suiting instruction
But supposing all of these problems
can be solved. What happens while we wait the 10, 20, or
30 years needed to evaluate basic practices and their replication?
Children can’t wait:
They grow up every day. So again it falls to the teachers.
William James identified teaching as an art. Let’s look
to science for help, but continue to ply our art.#
Dr. Lorraine McCune
is a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School
of Education. She can be reached at www.generalcreation.com
in the “Ask Dr. McCune” section,
or at www.educationupdate.com