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ERIC Number: ED498344
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2003-Nov
Pages: 8
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
The Use of Research Evidence in Instructional Improvement: CPRE Policy Briefs RB-40
Corcoran, Tom
Consortium for Policy Research in Education
This issue of CPRE Policy Briefs looks at findings from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education's (CPRE) study of how central office and school staff in three urban districts made decisions about instructional improvement strategies, and how much weight they gave to evidence. The three districts, in three different states, had enrollments ranging from 50,000 to over 200,000. Leaders in all three districts were addressing issues common to most urban districts: student problems associated with living in poverty, low achievement, high mobility, and high dropout rates. Changes in district and school leadership, high teacher turnover, funding changes, and new state policies compounded the difficulty of improving performance in all three sites. The districts were also working in environments characterized by decentralized decision-making, high-stakes accountability, and increasing competition among providers of comprehensive school reform designs and other instructional improvement strategies. The study examines three sets of strategic decisions that each district faced as it tried to improve student performance. The first set of decisions concerned what to do (which reform design or curriculum to adopt). The second group was deciding how to get it done: how to provide adequate support and coordination, how to focus attention on the desired changes, ensure effective implementation, reduce distractions, and buffer this work from competing agendas. Lastly, there were decisions regarding replication. The decision-making process in each case was complicated and the use of evidence to support the ultimate decisions varied considerably. The fact that central office personnel in the three districts were seeking research findings represents an important step toward evidence-based decision-making. Leaders in all three districts said that they wanted staff to base their decisions on evidence whenever possible. In all three districts, there were serious efforts to build evidence-based cultures in the central offices and to encourage schools to pay greater attention to research evidence. However, these efforts were hampered by limited research evidence easily available to decision-makers and by problems faced by staff trying to access and make sense of the research they could find. Conflicting research findings, small sample sizes, and lack of attention to key issues facing districts also contributed to confusion. Additionally, districts were hampered by the inability of district and school staff to put aside old patterns of decision-making that focused on philosophy rather than evidence of effective practice. In spite of challenges, progress was made as central office staff gave more consideration to research evidence in their decision-making. There was less progress in shifting the mindsets of school staff or in persuading professional development staff to use evidence, not interest, as the primary criterion for development programs for teachers. The leaders in the three districts agreed that most investment decisions were not being made on the evidence and viewed this as a significant weakness, but they also felt that correcting it would require major cultural changes in their organizations. Finally, while many current attempts to improve the use of evidence focus on improving the quality and definitiveness of education research, this study shows the balancing importance of educating users to appreciate the value and contributions of research.
Consortium for Policy Research in Education. University of Pennsylvania, 3440 Market Street Suite 560, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Tel: 215-593-0700; Fax: 215-573-7914; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, Philadelphia, PA.