03 SES 16 A, Curriculum Implementation and Teachers' Roles
In this paper we illuminate and critically examine the use of research and the participation of researchers in large scale collaborative school improvement and to what extent and in what ways research and the role of researchers change when they move from contexts of knowledge production to contexts of knowledge application in actual school improvement. In 2015, a large scale and nationwide school improvement mission, Cooperation for better schools(CBS), was launched by the Swedish government as a response to the decreasing results and disappointing PISA performance of Swedish schools, but also because of growing inequalities between and within schools. The National Agency of Education (NAE) was appointed to implement the CBS and it was chiefly geared to the strengthening of those schools that displayed poor track records of school performance and known difficulties with regard to their capacity for self-improvement (The Swedish Government, 2015). One year earlier, the OECD published a review of the Swedish school system with the alarming conclusion that it was in need of urgent change due to a number of disturbing factors, inter alia, a fragmented knowledge base, ineffective governance, weak commitments to improvement within the school system (OECD, 2014). The CBScan be seen as a response to the OECD review. In January 2019 more than 250 schools, 130 researchers and 50 employees from the NAE are involved in the CBS.
The CBS is designed as a nationwide collaboration among key actors and stakeholders. The Swedish School Inspectorate informs the selection process. Selected schools and their local authorities enter into dialogues with the NAE with regard to their possible participation. Participating schools get support from the NAE in terms of an analysis of school organization and performance, and the development of action plans for school improvement based on prior analysis. Researchers from partner universities are also involved in the analytical work, but they are chiefly recruited as scientifically grounded designers and executors of school improvement ventures in collaboration with schools and their local authorities. One important premise for the involvement of research and researchers is that the CBS is supposed to be based on research and state of the art knowledge drawn from disciplines and research relevant for the CBS. In fact, according to the Swedish Education Act and school regulations, the different key actors and stakeholders are all expected to promote or secure that education and school activities are grounded in research and science. The Swedish government also stimulates the dissemination of research findings as a key strategy for school improvement under the assumption that evidence or the fruits can be used directly for the purpose of school improvement (Government, 2017; Rönnström, 2018). However, it is stated by the NAE that researchers should bring expert knowledge to the CBS and thereby securing that all the work is carried out based on science, research and proved experience.
It is these assumptions of and expectations on research and researchers that motivates this study. The purpose of this paper is to illuminate and critically examine the use of research and the participation of researchers in the CBS, and in what ways research changes when it travels from contexts of production to contexts of application or use in the CBS. More precisely, we examine and analyze how results of or methods in research are used in the CBS, and the different ways in which researchers participate in the CBS. We compare and contrast the actual use of research and the participation of researchers with research on school improvement, educational change and educational leadership, and particularly research focusing on the roles of research and researchers in school improvement.
In this paper we critically examine the use of research and the participation of researchers in large scale collaborative school improvement and to what extent and in what ways research and the role of researchers change when they move from contexts of knowledge production to contexts of knowledge application or use in actual school improvement. To carry this out we use a methodological triangulation in which the object of the study is investigated with different but overlapping and co-producing approaches. In short, we critically examine and analyze relevant documents produced for or in the CBS, and we engage in field studies by means of participant observation in relation to meetings and events in the CBS. Firstly, we have critically examined written documents produced by different actors and stakeholders as a part of the expected work in the CBS, such as inspection reports, annual reports, mission statements, websites, organization and performance analysis, school improvement plans, scientific production aimed at the CBS and documents written by partner universities. Secondly, we have undertaken 6 months of field studies in terms of participant observation connected to meetings and events involving researchers and numerous references to research questions and topics. As participants, we have observed analytical seminars, workshops, training days arranged by the NAE and planning and work in schools. We have tried to cover all kinds of events where researchers are expected to bring their expertise to the CBS mission at large or to particular schools. Data was either written down in the form of field notes or recorded depending on the context. We chose to participate in 14 different events that covered different phases in the CBS processes. Thirdly, the data has been analyzed by comparing and contrasting them with recent research on school improvement (cf. Hopkins et al., 2014; Håkansson and Sundberg (2016, 2018), but also and above all literature on knowledge use in schools (cf. Seashore Louis, 2010; Brown, 2017; Wilkins, 2011) and society (Flyvberg, 2001; Rickinson et al, 2011). Fourthly, we have created and unfolded categories based on our analysis that captures expected and unexpected roles research and researchers can play in large scale collaborative school improvement.
The following tentative conclusions can be highlighted. Firstly, there is an emphasis on scientific procedures rather than on scientific results in the CBS. This is especially true about early phases focusing on problem formulation and extensive processes of analysis. The emphasis on owning the data, analysis and problem formulation seem to override a “top down” application of evidence informed practices. Secondly, despite the analytical context sensitivity described above there is tendency of standardization or a streamlining of school improvement. Although there are known contextual differences between different schools the analytical work seems to arrive at similar conclusions with regard to choice of school improvement strategy. Thirdly, the complex role of the researcher appears to be ambivalent – loyally legitimizing or critically examining? On the one hand, they are assigned a legitimizing role when the NEA refers to researchers as guarantors for successful processes and possessors of valid knowledge drawn from a solid knowledge base. On the other hand, they need to take a critical or even hesitating stance because they can hardly embrace all possible knowledge of all actual areas of school improvement. The researchers have knowledge of school improvement that challenges many assumptions related to the CBS but they tend to become loyal carriers of the mission although many of its assumptions are at odds with the research stance. Fourthly, research becomes flattened out when it leaves contexts essential for its research based meaning, and when it enters the life and minds of school actors using research in their everyday practice. Finally, different attitudes to research inform different actors and stakeholders in the CBS. A common assumption is that research is unmistakably good. This leads to romanticizing views of researchers and research, views they grapple with but cannot escape in the many unexpected roles they play in the CBS.
Brown, C. (2017) Using research findings. In: Wyse, D., Selwyn, N., Smith, E. and Suter, L. E. (Eds.) The BERA/SAGE Handbook of Education Research. London; SAGE. Flyvbjerg, B. (2001) Making Social Science Matter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hopkins, D., Stringfield, S., Harris, A., Stoll, L. & Mackay, T. (2014). School and system improvement: a narrative state-of-the-art-review. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 25 (2), 257-281. Håkansson, J. & Sundberg, D. (2016). Utmärkt skolutveckling. Forskning om skolförbättring och måluppfyllelse. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur. Håkansson, J. & Sundberg, D. (2018). Utmärkt ledarskap i skolan. Forskning om att leda för elevers måluppfyllelse. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur. OECD (2014) Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective. Paris: OECD Publications. Rickinson, M. , Sebba, J. and Edwards, A. (2011) Improving Research Through user Engagement. London: Routledge. Rönnström, N. (2018) Evidens och kontext. Om konsten att tolka och tillämpa forskning om skolledarskap. In Rönnström, N. and Johansson, O. (Eds.) Att leda skolor med stöd i forskning: exempel, analyser, utmaningar. Stockholm: Natur och kultur. Seashore Louis, K. (2010). Better schools through better knowledge? New understanding, new uncertainty. In: A. Hargreaves et al. (ed). Second international handbook of educational change. Dordrecht Springer. The Swedish Government (2017) Ny satsning på skolforskning. Available at: http://www.regeringen.se/pressmeddelanden/2017/03/ny-satsning-pa-skolforskning/ Utbildningsdepartementet (2015) Uppdrag om samverkan för bästa skola. Regeringen. Wilkins, R. (2011) Research Engagement for School Development. London: IOE Publications.
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