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Are You a Skeptical Research Consumer?

By LeaderTalk Contributor — March 29, 2009 3 min read

Last week, I attended a regional special education law conference. One of the keynote speakers was attorney Jose L. Martin from the Richards Lindsay and Martin law firm of Austin, TX. He also conducted one of the breakout sessions which was titled, “Understanding the Modern Requirements for Considertation of Research Based Interventions.” He talked about what both IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) say about either scientifically based research or peer-reviewed research. NCLB calls for the use of “scientifcally based research” as the foundation for many education programs and for classroom instruction. IDEA states that IEPs (Individual Education Plans) need to include “a statement of the special education and related servcies and supplementary aids and services, based on ‘peer reviewed research’ to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child...”

One of his final remarks got me to thinking which is leading to my point for this post. He said that we should “train staff to be skeptical ‘research consumers’ so that they can scrutinize research on methodologies for its theoretical base, implementation and replicability information, and evidence of effects on student achievement.”

So, I got to wondering, how I would begin to do that? I also wondered if some of you are already doing this with your staff. As consumers of many things, there are times when we want to read and know the research on something and there are other times when the product maybe looks good, seems simple enough and someone we know is also using it, so that’s good enough for me - I’ll buy it. Should a teacher care about the research or is that only for the administrator to be concerned about and/or the curriculum team that recommends purchasing of products?

How do I help special education teachers, who are doing a lot of individualized instruction for students with varying abilities and needs, focus on instruction that is research based? When they want to order something that caught their eye in a catalog, what consumer questions should they be asking themselves first before submitting their order?

The same questions might apply when a request comes for a workshop that a teacher wants to attend. I try to look at the flyer to see if there is any research to the topic or is it just someone making the educational circuit promoting an idea/product that is going to “fix” the children with disabilities or supposedly make life easier for the teacher?

We have all been taught to read the labels on the foods we buy so that we are better able to make decisions about what we put into our bodies. The same goes for medications and over-the-counter products. But what about the instructional products or strategies we use with our students? How are you teaching your teachers to be better consumers so that they are using scientifically based or peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable as stated in both NCLB and IDEA? How will we answer the question from parents or legal advocates at IEP meetings when they ask what the research says about the specialized services we are providing their child?

Obviously, the beginning is to start having these discussions with teachers to get them thinking about being better research consumers. It’s a process that will take time. I think that just as we keep talking about “data driven decision making” or “response to interventions” or “positive behavioral instructional strategies” that if we keep talking about ‘research based” services, we will come to understand it more and be better educational practitioners in the long run.

Is there anything you are doing now, either with your staff or on an individual basis, to become better research consumers?

Reggie Engebritson

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.