The problem in education reform isn't a lack of good ideas. It's a lack of good ideas implemented with enough clarity, consistency and integrity to actually make a difference in rigorous experiments. A recent large-scale evaluation of Response to Intervention (RTI) illustrates this problem once again.
My colleagues and I work in the schools that serve the very communities affected by the recent disturbances. The children who come to these schools start off bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of enthusiasm and confidence, like children everywhere. But then all too many of them experience failure. And all that motivation drains away.
There are a lot of schools in the U.S. that need to be achieving much better outcomes. However, there is a much smaller group of schools in which achievement levels are appalling. The solutions for garden-variety low-achieving schools are arguably different from those for schools with the very worst levels of performance.
The way we can find out what works is to compare schools or classrooms assigned to use any given program with those that continue current practices. Ideally, schools and classrooms are assigned at random to experimental or control groups. That's how we find out what works in medicine, agriculture, technology, and other areas.
Teachers need not be researchers to contribute to their profession. By participating in networks of like-minded educators -- implementing, continuously improving and communicating about practical approaches intended to improve outcomes of proven approaches -- they play an essential role in the improvement of their profession.
Moving to a focus on evidence-based reform will not solve all of the contentious issues about accountability, but it could help us focus the reform conversation on how to move forward the top 95% of teachers and schools -- the ones who teach 95% of our kids -- and how to put accountability in proper proportion.