August 08, 2003

Advocacy research on NYC District 2

The Educational Policy Archives added a very interesting pair of articles earlier this week. The main article is Research or "Cheerleading"? Scholarship on Community School District 2, New York City, by Lois Weiner of New Jersey City University. This is followed by Reforms, Research and Variability: A Reply to Lois Weiner, by Lauren B. Resnick of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

New York's CSD2 covers Manhattan below Central Park (except for a small area near the Williamsburg bridge), as well as the East Side up to a boundary varying between 96th and 100th street. During the period covered in the cited articles the superintendents of CSD2 were Anthony Alvarado and (after Alvarado moved to San Diego) Shelley Harwayne. District 2 is a hotbed of whole language and constructivist mathematics teaching and is much celebrated in certain circles for those reforms. The principal cheerleaders from the education research community are Lauren Resnick and Harvard's Richard Elmore.

Anyone familiar with the District 2 area of Manhattan will know of the tremendous changes in the demographics and the quality of life that have occurred there over the past 25, and also the past 10-15 years. Chelsea, TriBeCa, and Alphabet City and surrounding areas east of 2nd Ave are all unrecognizable now from the way they looked in the 1980s. The distractions of urban crime and decay have been very much reduced over the same period. Any honest investigation into the success of school policies must pay careful attention to the effects of these demographic changes. Researchers Elmore and Resnick note the changes, but otherwise pay scant attention to them, as is documented well in Weiner's article.

The reply by Lauren Resnick is of interest in its own way. Resnick characterizes Weiner's article as "... at once an analysis of data on demographics and achievement in Community School District Two (CSD2) in New York City and an attack on the research strategy (and by implication the research ethics) of the High Performance Learning Communities (HPLC) project that I co-directed, along with Richard Elmore and Anthony Alvarado". Resnick also writes (in the abstract):

The intent of the HPLC investigation was always to link scholars and practitioners in a new form of research and development in which scholars became problem-solving partners with practitioners. There are important issues about how to profitably conduct such "problem-solving" research. These issues are worth substantial attention from the communities of researchers and practitioners as collaborative research/practice partnerships proliferate. Serious studies of such partnerships are needed, going well beyond the anecdotal attacks offered by Weiner in her article.

Or, to paraphrase: "Sure, we were engaged in advocacy research. Let others do the proper work." Guilty as charged, is my assessment.

Posted by Bas Braams at August 8, 2003 06:24 AM