10 Common School Practices With No, Little or Mixed Support in the Research

What does the research and data tell us about many common practices in education? There are countless common practices in classrooms and schools around the world that are rarely examined in view of current and emerging research. Often, when the research is added to the conversation, professionals continue to hold to their existing beliefs and practices, arguing that their experiences trump the data and research. Consider the following ten practices. Some of these have little to no research in support of the practice. Others have mixed results in research. Yet, how many persist with the practices as if they were tried and carefully tested principles of good education.

Summer Break – There is a massive body of literature pointing to the loss of learning gains over long summers. This research goes back over 100 years. People can make arguments in defense of summer break, but let’s not pretend that the decision is about improved student learning.

Learning Styles – I continue to hear educators talk about learning styles as a foundational principle in their classrooms. Yet, what does the research say about it. Do people really have fixed and unchanging learning styles? Does designing lessons according to student learning styles improve student learning? Here is an excellent summary and exploration of these questions.

Letter Grades – Does the use of letter grades improve student learning? What does the research tell us? This is a tricky one because there is little to no research focused on this question. Yet, that is an important point. We have an age-old practice that has not been carefully studied. Yet, there are plenty of promising alternatives that do have a growing body of support in the literature, practices like standards-based education, narrative feedback, and portfolio assessment. Conduct a simple search on the web and see what you discover.

Homework – This is a near universal practice in schools. However, ask a dozen teachers what the research says about it. Which practices are supported by the research and which ones are not?

Pop Quizzes – First, I should note that we need to separate the discussion about quizzes that count toward one’s grade and those that do not. I’ve yet to find solid evidence to suggest that the weight of a quiz necessarily improves student learning. However, taking frequent quizzes and tests as a learning tool is supported by the research. Check out this source…and this one.

Common Core – This is new and I’m not going to point to any study. I’ll simply point out one important fact. The Common Core was widely adopted before any research or pilot tests were conducted. We had a mass adoption of a largely untested set of standards in the United States. This is not an argument for or against The Common Core…just a commentary on our quickness to try things without doing or looking at the research. Or, look at the debates about The Common Core. How many are even referencing current and emerging research?

Integrating Technology – Think of all the money invested in technology in schools. How much of this is done before carefully examining what the research actually says about certain practices? I contend that most technology integration is done this way. Yet, there is a growing body of literature that tells us what does seem to work and what does not.

Teacher-Student Ratio / Class Size – What is the idea class size? There are ample studies in this subject and we get different answers. Why? That is because the question is too general. The answer depends on countless factors, including the methods and strategies used and the learner profile. So, this is one where looking at the research is helpful, but often overly generalized to suggest a hard and fast rule for all situations. The truth is more nuanced and messy.

Honor Roll – Try looking for research on this topic. You will find little to nothing. It has not been carefully studied, but it remains a common practice. What are the actual benefits and limitations? We need research and data to answer this.

Holding Students Back a Grade – There is no solid body of literature to suggest that retaining students has long-term benefits for the learner. This is a practice that is more about convenience in the school and it is not supported by a rather large body of literature. We have hundreds of studies to inform our practice, but do we use them?

The Number of School Days – Most schools have a set number of days because of state regulations, not based upon any research. Do a quick search on the web and you’ll find all sorts of interesting studies about different potential models for the school year and school day, some with promising evidence.

Most of these are not black and white issues. There is room for some difference. Yet, my point is simple. Why wouldn’t we want to examine the research and data to inform our practices?