Effective Schooling Practices: a research Synthesis 1995 Update

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Originally, the synthesis was intended primarily as a support piece for schools receiving training in NWREL's Onward to Excellence (OTE) school improvement process. Staff of these schoolsùnow numbering approximately 2,000 across the U.S.ùhave used the synthesis to identify research-based practices that relate to the improvement goals they have set. They then plan, implement, and monitor the use of these practices, drawing upon additional research and the experience of others who have pursued similar goals.

Today, OTE is the best-known and one of the most highly regarded approaches to school improvement in the nation. OTE's success is due largely to (1) its insistence that educational improvement efforts be research based and (2) its provision of a resourceùthis synthesis and its predecessorsùthat makes it feasible for busy school personnel to access and use research.

The widespread, successful use of the syntheses in OTE schools is, of course, very gratifying. Its use, however, has expanded considerably beyond this initial application. The synthesis is also disseminated through NWREL's School Improvement Research Series (SIRS), a growing collection of research summaries and related articles distributed on either a single-purchase or subscription basis. As this edition of the synthesis goes to press, the combined sales of the first two editions total nearly 100,000 copies.

Participants in NWREL's more recently developed district-level strategic improvement process, Creating the Future, are also making use of the synthesis, a practice that can be expected to increase with the growth of that program. Large but undocumented numbers of complimentary copies have been distributed to NWREL's clients and colleagues over the years. And finally, the synthesis has been available since 1990 through the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) system (ED 347 613).

The Effective Schooling Research

The evidence that supports the assertions made in this synthesis come from several different kinds of research investigations. They include:

  • School effects research: Studies of whole schools undertaken to identify schoolwide practices that help students learn

  • Teacher effects research: Studies of teachers and students in the classroom to discover effective practices

  • Research on instructional leadership: Studies of principals and other building leaders to determine what they do to support teaching and learning

  • Curriculum alignment and curriculum integration research: Examinations of alternative methods of organizing and managing curriculum to determine effective approaches

  • Program coupling research: Inquiries into the interrelationships among practices used at the district, school building and classroom levels

  • Research on educational change: Studies to identify conditions and practices that promote significant, durable change in educational programs.

How to Use the Synthesis

This research synthesis describes characteristics and practices identified by research as associated with improvements in student performance. Findings are cited within three sections, each focused on one level of organization: the classroom, the school, and the district. Groups of practices derived from the research have been organized into practice clusters (such as "Teachers Use a Preplanned Curriculum to Guide Instruction") and then into cluster groupings (such as "Instruction" and "Assessment").

At the end of each practice cluster are lists of sources from the research base which support the practices cited in that cluster. While these are not inclusive of all the reports reviewed in that topic area, they are of high quality, representative of the research base, relatively easy to retrieve, and therefore likely to be useful to those wanting to pursue a given topic in more detail. Full citations may be found in the bibliography at the end of this publication.

The findings summarized here will be of interest to persons exploring or involved in school improvement and restructuring efforts. The synthesis can stimulate discussion of instructional issues, guide the development of appropriate local improvements, and aid in decision making as school improvements take place. When integrated into a locally determined plan for action, these practices can be of significant assistance in the improvement of schools.

A word of caution: This booklet cannot legitimately be utilized as a checklist or instrument for evaluating the performance of individual teachers or principals, nor should it be used as a blueprint for local school improvement. It is not a simple recipe for school improvement, nor is it, in and of itself, a staff development program or a program for supervision.

The experience of those involved in OTE and other school improvement efforts does demonstrate, however, that the findings presented here are useful in helping to develop and actualize school improvement projects that bring about real change for the better. Research and experience both offer the clear and optimistic message that schools do make a difference and that, with an appropriate concentration of will and effort, teachers and administrators can substantially influence student success.

We suggest that readers review the research findings reported here and, based on local decisions and needs, use these findings to formulate processes that can lead to attainment of school goals.

How to Access the Research

Use of the research synthesis frequently leads readers to want to acquire materials identified in the bibliography. While we at NWREL are not able to provide these documents, we have taken steps to make it easier for users to locate them. This edition of the synthesis provides the most complete bibliographic information possible for each source cited, including journal volumes, numbers, months and years. ED numbers are provided for documents available through the ERIC system, and most hard-to-find or "fugitive" citations have been deleted. Finally, those items cited at the end of each practice cluster in the synthesis text have been selected partly for ease of access, and most can readily be retrieved at a county, university, or other well-stocked library.

Journal Articles and Books. These libraries, for example, should have many of the educational journals in which the articles in this bibliography appear. Local library staff can assist users to locate articles from these journals. Articles from journals the local library does not have can often be retrieved through interlibrary loan. Likewise, books cited in the bibliography can either be borrowed from the library or, for users who wish to acquire their own copies, can generally be found, along with price and ordering information, in Books in Print. School-based users are encouraged to contact their instructional media specialists for assistance in retrieving resources.

ERIC Documents. Citations that conclude with an ED numberùthe letters "ED" followed by six digitsùin parentheses refer to materials that have been photocopied and miniaturized on microfiche by ERIC staff. Local librarians can help readers locate the nearest ERIC microfiche collection.

Most documents can also be ordered, in either microfiche or hard-copy form, from: ERIC Document Reproduction Service, DynTel Corporation, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, VA 22153-2852, 1-800-443-ERIC. Costs: Paper copyù$3.85 for each 25 pages or part thereof; Microfiche (each containing 96 pages)ù$0.25 each.

SIRS Materials. Some citations in this bibliography refer to "Close-Ups" and "Topical Syntheses" developed at NWREL. These articles are from NWREL's School Improvement Research Series (SIRS), of which this synthesis is also a part. Hard copy of the different "series" of SIRS materials are available for purchase from NWREL's Document Reproduction Service (contact information below), and some of them are also in the ERIC system. Finally, they are available on the Internet via the NWREL Web Site http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs.

Additions to the SIRS materials on the Internet will be made as new documents are published.

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