Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 60, No. 5, p. 458-468. (November/December 2009)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
Currently the press to make policy and practice decisions on the basis of evidence is being coupled with recognition that real change requires shifts in organizational culture. Consequently, there are now many efforts to “re-culture” organizations by making evidence central to decision making. In this article, the authors problematize the notion of a “culture of evidence” in teacher education.
The multidisciplinary Evidence Team (ET) which formed by Boston College concluded the core aspects of teacher preparation in a conceptual framework for assessing teacher education: the characteristics of entering teacher candidates; how these characteristics interact with the learning opportunities available in the program; how teacher candidates experience and make sense of these opportunities; whether and how teacher candidates/graduates actually use what they learn in classrooms and schools (including teachers’ strategies, interpretive frameworks, and ways of relating to students and others); desired school outcomes, including pupils’ academic and social, and civic learning; and how all of these are embedded within varying institutional, school, social, cultural, and accountability contexts and influenced by the differing conditions in which teachers work.
Then the article identifies four key aspects involved in efforts to create a culture of evidence at one institution over a five-year period: (1) use of mixed methods and a dialectic approach to generate a portfolio of studies about processes and outcomes; (2) recognition that teacher education always poses values questions as well as empirical questions; (3) an exploratory, open-ended approach to evidence construction; and, (4) multiple structures that institutionalize evidence collection and use locally and beyond.
To make progress on the complex problem of getting to evidence, the ET worked simultaneously on a number of studies that are methodologically different but conceptually compatible.
Over time, the ET built an evidence portfolio—that is, a collection of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research studies addressing different pieces of the same broad topic, as represented in the conceptual framework. The evidence portfolio has seven major projects:
(1) a series of surveys examining teacher candidates’/graduates’ perceptions, experiences, beliefs, and reported practices;
(2) a set of instruments that conceptualize and measure learning to teach for social justice as an outcome of teacher education;
(3) qualitative case studies, examining relationships among candidates’ entry characteristics, learning in the program, classroom practices, pupils’ learning, and social justice;
(4) two analyses, drawing on longitudinal data bases from the series of surveys and the qualitative case studies mentioned above. These analyses designed to identify key interrelationships between teacher development and teacher retention;
(5) cross-sectional and value added assessment of the impact of BC graduates on pupils’ test performance;
(6) comparison of graduates’ classroom practices and pupils’ performance on content tests for teachers; and
(7) a mixed-methods study of teacher candidates’ ability to raise questions, document pupils’ learning, and interpret and alter classroom practice using classroom-based inquiry.
A second factor that helped to support the authors’ efforts to build a culture of inquiry and evidence was their perspective on teacher education as social and cultural practice. It means that in addition to posing empirical questions, the authors worked from the premise that teacher education always poses values, ethical, and moral questions as well that cannot be settled simply by assembling good evidence.
An Exploratory and Local Approach to Evidence Construction
The third aspect of the authors’ work that supported the development of a culture of evidence is that the studies in their evidence portfolio all addressed authentic situated questions, which were posed by people involved in the work of teacher education and for which there were not a priori answers. The authors argue that creating a culture of evidence and inquiry in teacher education is to ask open-ended questions that emerge from the everyday work of practice informed by larger debates and controversies in the field.
Institutionalizing Inquiry and Evidence
The authors learned over 5 years that it was essential to build multiple and overlapping structures that systematize and institutionalize a data-rich environment in which quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods assessments and studies inform decisions about teacher preparation policy, practice, and curriculum.
The ET instituted “data workshops” as part of teacher education faculty meetings and other contexts involving education and arts and sciences faculty and administrators. During these workshops, selected survey results were presented along with small group discussions about their meanings. Eventually analyses from other studies and assessments were also presented within data workshops, which became a periodic feature of faculty meetings.
The authors suggest that building cultures of evidence has the potential to be transformative in teacher education, but only if challenges related to sustainability, complexity, and balance are addressed.