The Productivity Commission’s draft report into the evidence base for education confirms there has been little improvement in student outcomes despite substantial increases in expenditure over the last decade — an additional $10 billion a year in real terms.
However the report fails to adequately address the main problem with the evidence base in education: it is largely ignored by the education establishment because it does not align with the prevailing fixations and orthodoxies.
Explicit instruction is a case in point. Research strongly supports explicit teaching as more effective than ‘inquiry-based’ approaches, especially for teaching children novel and complex concepts. The evidence base for explicit (or ‘direct’) instruction extends over four decades. Yet teacher education faculties and government departments are in the thrall of inquiry or discovery learning, in the mistaken belief that so-called 21st Century skills such as innovation, problem-solving and creativity can be acquired without a solid foundation of knowledge and good old-fashioned facts.
While there are schools around Australia that are doing exemplary work using evidence-based practice, unfortunately it is not the norm. More and better research is always welcome, but we already know a lot about what works best, it just isn’t reaching classrooms.
Jennifer Buckingham is a Senior Research Fellow and Director of FIVE from FIVE project at the Centre for Independent Studies
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