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The Reform Movement
A decade of school reform began in the 1980s with the publication of reports such as A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (1983); The Carnegie Report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (1986); Tomorrow's Teachers: A Report of the Holmes Group (1986); and Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading (1985). Each report focused on various aspects of U.S. public education in need of reform, thus raising the public awareness of the necessity for change in education. The overriding concern of all the reports was that the education of American youth has become mediocre, the American edge in a world economy has disappeared, test scores reveal a greater number of students who lack proficiency in basic skills, and the educational system is in need of reforms that will change all of these.
As a result of A Nation at Risk, governors, states, and legislative assemblies became involved in mandated change. Some of the results, according to Chance (1988), were "strengthened graduation requirements, college admission standards, testing, competency statements, no-pass/no-play and attendance rules, etc.," and for the educational professions: "salary increases, strengthened certification requirements and, in some cases, differentiated salary systems" (p. 13). Passow (1989) suggests metaphorically that this first wave "caught the attention of policymakers and the public in ways and to an extent that were unprecedented" (p. 33). States legislated educational reforms employing various approaches to achieving academic excellence. Aspects of the educational system that could be easily changed with laws and regulations were altered. Hundreds of reports from state-level task forces followed the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk.
The second wave of reform began with the Holmes and Carnegie reports and their emphasis on teachers. Calling for a five-year effort to make the changes they felt were necessary in the teaching profession, the Holmes Report was filed by a group of education deans from leading colleges and universities. The Carnegie Forum's Task Force on Teaching as a Profession placed emphasis on reforming the profession of teaching as well as raising teacher salaries.
What have been some results of these calls for reform? On the positive side, Pipho (1986) cites the unparalleled activity of state legislatures and boards of education as indications that the reform movement is alive and thriving. He states that "between 200 and 300 state-level forces have been in operation since 1983 and have proposed many changes" (p. 7). However, on the negative side, he says that today there are fewer omnibus state reform bills, few real changes have occurred in the classroom, new coalitions are working against changes in schools, and many of the politicians who had led the reform effort are leaving office; all of which indicate that the reform movement is dying. Fullan, Bennett, and Rolheiser-Bennett (1989) contend that "up to this point in the history of planned educational reform, there is no evidence of sustained improvement" (p. 1). Sanders (1981) pointed to two conclusions that can be drawn from the American experience in school improvement efforts:
1. the expected educational improvements have not ensued; and
2. on the other hand, unexpected consequences result in undesirable changes in the school system. (p. 8)
McNeil (1988) found that the reforms were having a reverse effect. Teachers were frustrated by a loss of power as they endeavored to comply with state-mandated curricula. Rather than using their knowledge and creativity to plan programs which were meaningful to them as well as the students, teachers, as a result of the student-assessment programs, focused on preparing students for standardized tests. McNeil argues that "the effects of such standardized reforms contradict the rhetoric of their purpose and leave us more educationally impoverished than when we began" (McNeil, 1988, p. 485).
Teachers and Reform
Past efforts at reform indicate that school leaders believe mandated reforms can be successful. Many changes have been introduced into schools often via inservice training and it has been assumed that teachers would be able to go back to their classrooms and make the necessary changes (Parish & Arends, 1983). Teachers have been treated as passive recipients of reform activity or, worse yet, as "the problem of poor schools" (Glickman, 1989, p. 6).
The Holmes and Carnegie reports began to change the viewpoint from top-down solutions to bottom-up strategies that would empower teachers. As Chance (1988) confirms, reforms now extend "to new conceptions of delegation, involvement and the empowerment of teachers. . . . The process of change must shift from mandated packages of reforms to more collaborative, cooperative, protracted endeavors" (pp. 15,16). Currently, it is becoming popular to view teachers as the solution to school problems, and a number of authors are advocating looking to teachers for directions in reform. Sirotnik (1989) maintains, "In attempting, therefore, to sustain whatever is left that is positive in this decade of educational reform, it must not be forgotten where the ultimate power to change is and always has been in the heads, hands, and hearts of the educators who work in our schools. True reform must go where the action is" (p. 109). Shulman (1983) concludes that "the teacher must remain the key. The literature on effective schools is meaningless, debates over educational policy are moot, if the primary agents of instruction are incapable of performing their functions well" (p. 504). Duckworth (1984) states that "if policy is to affect students' experience in schools, it must be through what teachers do, how they do it, and what it means to them; policy cannot bypass their thoughtful consideration" (p. 17). As early as 1977-1978, Hunt was saying that change is "best encouraged by approaches which begin with an understanding of the practitioner and his implicit theories about the world of practice" (p. 88).
Effort has been renewed at understanding the culture of the school, the place where teachers work. Little (1982), Lortie (1975), Nias (1989), Rosenholtz (1989), and Sarason (1982) have extensively described teachers and their work. This most recent focusing on the structure of the workplace is what Fullan, Bennett, and Rolheiser-Bennett (1989) call "the new kid on the block" (p. 5). Joyce, Murphy, Showers, and Murphy (1989) have shown that when the workplace is restructured to make it a collegial, supportive environment, teachers can learn new strategies. When teachers learn new strategies, student achievement increases, and that is what the reform movement is calling for.
But what are the hopes that `restructuring the workplace' will provide the ultimate solution? Fullan et al. (1989) concede "It is too early to conclude whether restructuring will turn out to be yet another dead-end, but it is likely" (p. 5). They believe that "the tendency for hoards of people to jump to the latest popular solution" rather than `getting at' the underlying factors in failed reform efforts will result in `restructuring' simply being added "to the so-far endless string of failed reform efforts"
The reform movement has not been able to accomplish sustained reform, and yet it is not dying. Raywid (1990) believes that the reform movement continues, "perhaps because of the urgency of the need for school improvement" (p. 139). As the reform movement continues, one sees a definite shift in focus from general reform efforts to the teacher. Fullan et al. (1989) testify:
In common sense terms the questions of interest to us are: What do we know about how individual teachers and classrooms improve? What do we know about how schools improve? And especially, what do we know about how classroom and school improvements are linked within the same school? In particular, we are interested in getting inside the very processes which underly the previous three questions. (p. 1, emphasis supplied)
This research focuses on the first of these three questions:
"What do we know about how individual teachers
. . . improve?" With a better understanding of how teachers change, inservice programs can be planned to facilitate greater reform. Centering on teachers who try to improve reading instruction by implementing a direct instruction approach, this study uses a qualitative design to follow the process of change.
Reading Part of the Problem
Reading is an imperative across the entire curriculum, a vital life-skill, and although one could enter into debates about the levels of `basic' and `functional' literacy, that is not the purpose of this study. Some aspects of the literacy problem are clarified in the National Advisory Council on Adult Education Literacy Committee's report, Illiteracy in America: Extent, Causes, and Suggested Solutions (1986). For the purposes of this study, the reports as given in several significant nationwide studies are used. From A Nation at Risk the following were listed as indicators of risk that were documented by the Commission.
* Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest tests of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension.
* About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy among minority youth may run as high as 40 percent.
* Many 17-year-olds do not possess the "higher order" intellectual skills we should expect of them. Nearly 40 percent cannot draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay; and only one-third can solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps.
* Business and military leaders complain that they are required to spend millions of dollars on costly remedial education and training programs in such basic skills as reading, writing, spelling and computation. (pp. 8,9)
The Report of the Commission on Reading, Becoming a Nation
of Readers reports that NAEP (National Assessment of Educational
Progress) scores show slight losses in inferential comprehension
for 17-year-olds between the 1970-71 and 1979-80 NAEP evaluations
(p. 127). It also quoted the Thorndike study which found disproportionate numbers of children in the U.S. in the poorest reading levels, and American students trailing behind many industrial countries in reading performance (p. 3).
While some (Stedman & Smith, 1983) have faulted A Nation at Risk on using 10-year-old statistics, others have shown the need for consistent evaluation techniques (Selden, 1988; Smith, 1988). Athey and Singer (1987) have criticized Becoming a Nation of Readers for being overly optimistic, ignoring one-third of the school population (minorities, poor, and disabled), not addressing the societal aspects of literacy and not adequately addressing the need for high levels of comprehension. Regardless of the validity of the reports, one outcome is certain: the public awareness has been raised and determination for action has been cemented. Hollified, Lyman, Foyle, Tudge, and Caruso (1989) allege that many of the recommendations of A Nation at Risk have fallen by the wayside, but "the abysmal picture that it painted of the depressing lack of academic achievement of America's children remains firmly etched in the hearts of educators, politicians, and the American public"
And the picture will not go away. Applebee, Langer, and Mullis (1987), in discussing the NAEP results, revealed that "only a small percentage of the young people sampled in its recent studies can reason effectively about what they read and write. That means that the majority do not have the critical thinking skills we need in an economy like ours that's based on information and knowledge" (p. 3). Statements such as Glickman's (1989) that "700,000 functionally illiterate adults continue to graduate each year, and another 700,000 students drop out of school" (p. 7), continue to make the picture dismal. Ordovensky in U.S.A. Today (August 28, 1990) gave a summary of the most recent SAT scores. Once again the national average score is down and the entire decline is in verbal skills. U.S.A. Today quotes College Board president Donald Stewart as saying, "Reading is in danger of becoming a lost art among too many American students" (p. 1A). Gibbs (October 8, 1990) in Time says,
From both inner cities and the affluent suburbs comes a drumbeat
of stories about tin-pot principals who cannot be fired, beleaguered
teachers with unmanageable workloads and illiterate graduates
with abysmal test scores. . . . The business community, in particular,
wonders where it will find a trained, literate, motivated work
force in the 21st century. (pp. 44, 46)
In summary, there is a picture in America of unwarranted levels of illiteracy. Lack of adequate reading skills is viewed as a serious problem.
Solutions to the Problem of Illiteracy
Becoming a Nation of Readers asserts that "America will become a nation of readers when verified practices of the best teachers in the best schools can be introduced throughout the country" (p. 120). A Nation at Risk contends that "our better understanding of learning and teaching and the implications of this knowledge for school practice, and the numerous examples of local success as a result of superior effort and effective dissemination" (p. 15) are needed essentials to reform American education. Illiteracy in America lists the need to "improve the teaching of reading" as the first of its many suggested solutions to the problem of illiteracy (p. 47).
The reports clearly state that educators now have "verified practices" and "numerous examples of local success." Now these just need to be incorporated in all schools.
The Present Knowledge Base and Difference
Between It and Implementation
In the last 10-15 years, the knowledge base of "what works" in schools has become more clearly defined. Joyce and Showers (1988) confirm that "there is a considerable reservoir of effective teaching skills and . . . programs can be designed to include procedures that will enable virtually any current practitioner to develop high levels of skill with them" (p. 7). Clark, Lotto, and McCarthy (1980), in an analysis of over 1,200 studies, affirmed the existence of an extensive knowledge base that can ensure school success in the urban setting. In the field of reading, Anthony, Pearson and Raphael (1989) contend that "research in reading comprehension has received more attention in the past 15 years than in the previous six decades" (p. 2).
Reading is currently viewed as an interactive process whereby the text, context, and reader interact to bring meaning to the text. Strategies such as predicting, summarizing, clarifying, questioning, and assessing prior knowledge have been shown to aid comprehension of text. Anthony et al. (1989) conclude that "while much is known about the comprehension process and important instructional features related to comprehension instruction, there still exists wide gaps between our current knowledge and ongoing practice" (p. 17). They believe that "teachers and teacher educators have the knowledge available to make large-scale reform in terms of both materials and instruction" (p. 17).
With all this knowledge, why is reform in reading instruction so slow in taking place? This account by Gilbert (in Carnine, 1988) may help clarify the issues:
In developing a 6-hour training course for Korean War soldiers on how to avoid trenchfoot and frostbite, greater sources of casualties than gunshot wounds, I soon saw that something was wrong. The entire subject matter could be stated in a single sentence: "Keep Your Socks Dry!" The course was a mistake, but it did open a portal to discovery. For the first time I saw the difference between deficiencies of knowledge and deficiencies of execution. Even after watching movies of toes falling off, soldiers simply would not go to the trouble to keep their socks dry. (p. 80)
There is a distinct difference between knowledge and implementation. Previous to the Rand Studies (Berman & McLaughlin, 1978), emphasis had been placed on knowledge and the acceptance or adoption of that knowledge. When the United States Office of Education commissioned the Rand Corporation to study the various innovations which it was funding, it found three distinct phases in the process of educational change: adoption, implementation, and institutionalization. It became clear that knowing about an innovation and adopting it, did not guarantee implementation. Educators had overlooked the entire second phase. Chapter 2 shows that in considering implementation historically, education has moved from preoccupation with the innovation itself, to characteristics of state, district, and county change agents, to, finally, the teacher the one who implements.
Summary of the Background of the Problem
The 1980s the decade of the reports raised the public concern for educational reform. "A theme common to almost all the reports was the clear warning that American education was deteriorating seriously and that the nation's very future was threatened by the erosion of its educational foundations" (Passow, 1989, p. 13). Various reports called for reform in schools as well as in teacher education programs.
Simultaneously with the public concern about mediocre education, a knowledge base of strategies that would improve education was developing (Joyce & Showers, 1988). "What we are moving towards from separate subfields of education, such as curriculum implementation, change, innovation, supervision, professional development, teacher education, research and development is an effective synergy of them all" (Butt, 1984,
p. 20). And at the focal point is the teacher.
Statement of the Problem
"We are in a period of educational crisis, with a wide discrepancy between the instructional methods used in schools and those verified by research as most effective" (Johnson & Johnson, 1984, p. 2). Although the research base for reading instruction has made quantum leaps in the past decade, the results of that research have been slow in finding their way into the classroom. Even when new research-based strategies are utilized by teachers, one notes that the effect is not lasting. Alvermann and Hayes (1989) and Wendler, Samuels, and Moore (1988) have shown that there is no lasting effect to changes in teacher behavior. One must ask `why,' since the innovations have been shown to be helpful and the pressure is definitely on teachers to perform. Why is there not more consistent use of new strategies in the classroom? Is the adage `teachers teach as they were taught' a self-fulfilling prophecy in the field of reading instruction? Are there obstacles in the teacher culture which retard change? What happens when teachers try to learn a new method?
Purpose of the Study
Answers to these questions can be found by studying teachers as they go through the process of educational change. Fullan (1982) said that "neglect of the phenomenology of change that is, how people actually experience change as distinct from how it might have been intended is at the heart of the spectacular lack of success of most social reforms" (p. 4). Acquiring an understanding of the processes by which teachers learn new methods will empower educators to meet the challenge of skill acquisition and maintenance. Teachers will be assisted in learning new methods and the gap between research and practice will begin to close.
How will this happen? Fullan (1990), in his framework of educational change, suggests that the teacher must engage in reflective practices to be a learner. Elbaz (1988) claims that teachers are able to move from phenomenological description to a
critically reflective activity by considering their common experiences. This is one of the primary reasons for this research: that teachers will see themselves through the thick description of others' experiences and the process of reflection will be facilitated. The more reflection, the greater is the degree of school improvement (Fullan, 1990).
This project endeavors to add to the knowledge base concerning staff development by focusing specifically on teachers and the change process as they experience it. It is unique in several respects.
First, the study uses a relatively new methodology as applied to education a qualitative approach which is designed to study the context and process of a particular situation. The reasons for choosing a qualitative approach as well as the rationale for a multiple-case study design appear in Chapter 3. Second, the study is the analysis of a process of change as it occurs primarily to teachers in a religiously sponsored school system. Third, it involves a rather critical area of educational practice a direct instruction method for reading. Chapter 2, the review of literature, focuses on direct instruction and shows how it has recently gained acceptance in the field of reading. Because direct instruction has been shown to be a successful approach to teaching beginning reading, a direct instruction method has been chosen as the strategy which teachers in this study will endeavor to learn.
This study provides a more complete picture of inservice education as it is experienced by teachers. In contrast to planned
change, it focuses on change as an individual teacher's choice and on the responses of teachers to that change. If insights can be gained which will help teachers implement new strategies more effectively and with less frustration, then this will be a modest contribution to the current knowledge base of staff development and effective schools and, therefore, to student achievement.
Questions to Be Answered
This study attempts to answer the following questions:
1. What happens to teachers when they try to learn a new teaching strategy?
2. What factors within the teacher affect the learning of a direct instruction reading approach?
3. How do teachers relate to other contextual factors as they implement change?
4. What changes in their beliefs do teachers experience as they learn a direct instruction reading approach?
5. Are there aspects in the teacher culture which act as obstacles in the implementation of a direct instruction reading approach?
6. What strategies do teachers use to help them in implementation?
7. How does a direct instruction reading method affect the teaching/learning process?
Definitions of Terms
Case Study. "A process of research which tries to describe and analyze some entity in qualitative, complex, and comprehensive terms not infrequently as it unfolds over a period of time" (Wilson, 1979, p. 448). Also in terms of purpose, "to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the groups under study" and "to develop general theoretical statements about regularities in social structure and process" (Becker in Merriam, 1988, p. 11).
Context. "The interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs" (Webster, 1981). The importance of understanding contexts is clearly elucidated by Mishler (1979).
Change. "The complete or partial alteration of an item in form, quality, or relationship; philosophically, a basic principle of existence in contrast to permanence or changelessness" (Good, 1973, p. 89).
Change Agent. "A person, group, agency, or other medium that attempts to alter, change, or restructure concepts, conditions, or processes" (Good, 1973, p. 89).
Contextual Factor. "Any force or constraint that compels or inhibits some action and that is beyond the power of persons
. . . to control" (Guba & Lincoln, 1981, p. 305).
Direct Instruction. "Refers to a systematic method of teaching with emphasis on proceeding in small steps, checking for student understanding, and achieving active and successful participation by all students" (Gorton, Schneider, & Fisher, 1988, p. 93).
ECRI. Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction a direct instruction method that uses "specific directives during reading, oral language, spelling, dictation, creative writing, and penmanship instruction. Student advancement depends upon rate of mastery. A student progresses in practicing new skills and in working with materials independently of other students" (Educational Programs That Work, National Diffusion Network, 1980, p. 8-6).
Educational Change. "Current alterations in education in regard to size and scope of the total educational endeavor, including curriculum, teaching methods, and social climate among students in educational institutions" (Good, 1973, p. 205).
Innovation. "The introduction of a new idea, method, or device in curriculum, educational administration, etc." (Good, 1973, p. 302).
Inservice Education. "Efforts to promote by appropriate means the professional growth and development of workers while on the job . . . planned and organized effort to improve the knowledge, skill, and attitudes of instructional staff members to make them more effective on the job" (Good, 1973, p. 294).
Mastery Formula. A term used by Morrison to designate an instructional procedure recommended for securing mastery of subject matter and defined as "pre-test, teach, test the result, adapt procedures, teach and test again to the point of actual learning" (Good, 1973, p. 352).
Participant Observation. A "conscious and systematic sharing . . . in the life-activities . . . of a group of persons. Its purpose is to obtain data about behavior through direct contact and in terms of specific situations in which the distortion that results from the investigator's being an outside agent is reduced to a minimum" (Kluckhohn, 1940, p. 331).
Planned Change. "Designed change, which comes about as a result of some scheme or system of action" (Good, 1973, p. 89).
Program, Staff Development. "All efforts of school officials to recruit, select, orient, assign, train, or reassign staff members so as to provide the best possible staff for the operation of the schools; generally used to include both staffing and inservice education" (Good, 1973, p. 448).
Thick Description. A term from anthropology used to refer to the "literal description of the entity being evaluated, the circumstances under which it is used, the characteristics of the people involved in it, and the nature of the community in which it is located and the like. . . . [It] also involves interpreting the meaning of such demographic and descriptive data in terms of cultural norms and mores, community values, deep-seated attitudes and motives, and the like" (Guba & Lincoln, 1981, p. 119).
Triangulation. A term borrowed from surveying and mathematics which is a process whereby a position is found from two fixed points. In qualitative research, it is the multiple use of methods, sources, investigators, and theories to increase the trustworthiness of findings (Denzin, 1970; Webster, 1981).
Delimitations of the Study
The study is limited to the teachers who enrolled in EDTE436 (Elementary Language Arts Methods) and EDTE492 (Teaching Developmental Reading) summer 1990 at Midwest University. (Midwest University is a pseudonym as are all other names used throughout this dissertation.) Because the study investigates the process of learning a new strategy, it is important that all subjects go through the same training. This makes it possible to assume that differences in the subjects are caused by something other than the training itself. The strategy to be learned is a direct instruction method for teaching reading, the Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction method (ECRI) developed by Ethna Reid.