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Eric Kalenze, the Director of Education Solutions at Search Institute, is the author of Education Is Upside-Down: Reframing Reform to Focus on the Right Problems and the education blog A Total Ed Case. He is the US ambassador for researchED, an organization that seeks to build educators’ awareness of evidence-supported practices and all-around research literacy. researchED—which has held educator-led conferences in England, Australia, Sweden, South Africa, and elsewhere since forming in 2013—will be holding its fourth US conference on October 27 in Philadelphia (at St Joseph’s Preparatory School—for more information, visit the event website). On Twitter, follow researchED at @researchED_US, Eric at @erickalenze.
If you were anywhere near Edutwitter last week, there’s no way you could have missed “Hard Words: Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read?”, an audio documentary by American Public Media’s Emily Hanford about reading instruction in the US.
For a few days, it had to be the most widely shared/discussed/debated piece of education content around. Ten or so days out from its publication, in fact, I’m still seeing it come across my feed. And based on so much of the retweet commentary I see leading it in (e.g., “So many good points in here!”, “We were never taught this—teachers and administrators must listen!”, “Surprising read!”, etc.), it’s clearly blowing some minds.
I won’t go too far into the details of Hanford’s piece here, as really, it’s something everyone concerned with education should read or listen to for themselves. Here’s the short version, though: when it comes to literacy instruction, many in education (and yes, this includes career teachers, literacy specialists, ed-school professors, reform advocates, policy wonks, administrators, and on and on) don’t know—or have chosen to disregard—what much scientific trial has told us about how kids should be taught to read.
Now, shocking as that idea clearly was to some readers, quite a few of us out here—the community of folks concerned with improving education practices using research and evidence, that is—weren’t the least bit surprised. If you haven’t really heard of the “us” I refer to, I can’t blame you. Our profiles don’t tend to be as large as education’s various tech evangelists, think tank-based policy experts, social-justice activists, school-choice advocates/opponents, or “futurists”.
We’re education reformers, nonetheless, but just not in those structural, policy-level, “big ‘R’ Reform” ways described so well by Rick Hess. Rather, we’re dedicated to the stuff we think matters most in education, educators’ day-to-day practices. A bit more specifically: we’ve watched the education field opt for practices that go “in a direction opposite from the existing research evidence” (to borrow from the late Jeanne Chall, one of the 20th century’s foremost experts in literacy instruction, in 2000’s posthumously released The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?) for some time now, and we would like to bring that tendency to a close. And to slow or stop such tendencies across the education field, we in the evidence-informed practice reform community have dedicated our study and actions toward helping other educators make better choices based on research and evidence, not merely ideals or intuition.
We’re all over the world, and pretty well all of us are or were classroom teachers who stumbled on ideas like those in the Hanford piece via our teaching experiences and/or what we received (or, perhaps more aptly, what we didn’t receive) in our continuing professional development. Social media, thankfully, has helped us find one other, and some of these connections have thickened into actual sturdy networks of evidence-critical educator-learners. Of the learning networks that have sprung up, I’d even go as far as to call one a true evidence-informed education-improvement movement: researchED.
researchED grew from a single day of learning in 2013. A group of UK teachers (spearheaded by Tom Bennett, researchED’s formal founder and director), dissatisfied with the faddish and unproven methods they kept encountering in their schools, at education conferences, and in the education media, essentially decided—via a Twitter conversation, by the way—to stop complaining and to build their own event. Prominent speakers offered to appear and waive honoraria, teachers from all over offered to help with venue and logistics, a registration system was set up, and so on. Hundreds of teachers ultimately arrived and, thanks to participants’ live-tweets from the event and post-event blogging about their experiences, demand for more such conferences immediately snowballed.
Five years later, the same grassroots spirit has powered researchED conferences all across the globe. Numerous satellite conferences are held each year throughout the UK, and researchED has appeared in locations like Amsterdam, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the US—with more locations coming aboard each year. Also, many educators from within the researchED community have branched into writing blogs, articles, and books to broadcast their experiences and expertise, and the researchED organization has begun curating and publishing content via a magazine. (Register here to receive an issue free. Yes, free!)
I was invited to speak at a few researchED events in the UK after the 2014 release of my book. I found myself so inspired by the events’ quality of learning and all-around energy that I simply had to get more involved. I approached Tom about organizing more events here in the US and, after successful conferences in Washington, DC, and Brooklyn (which included major education thinkers like David Steiner, Kate Walsh, Derrell Bradford, Mark Seidenberg, The Learning Scientists, and dozens more) in 2016 and 2017, respectively, I’m optimistic that a similar energy is gaining here.
Our next US researchED conference will be held on Saturday, October 27, in Philadelphia, at St Joseph’s Preparatory School. The program includes a wide range of educational wisdom, from school leadership to classroom practices to our first-ever parent-advocacy panel. If you’ve had it with realities like those described in Emily Hanford’s fine story, are interested in learning from some of education’s best voices, and would like to plug permanently into this growing movement of educator-learners, you won’t find a better value ($50 for the day—includes lunch!) or atmosphere anywhere. Please check out our event site or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information. I’d love to meet you in October!