Friday, 14 September 2018

School research leads, piling up the evidence and a reflection on researchED 2018

Last weekend saw the annual education evidence fest – aka-  ResearchED 2018 take place in St John's Wood,  London .  Unfortunately, one of the inevitable disappointments of attending #rED 18 is that you are unable to see all the speakers that you would like to see.  As such, you are often have to do with other people’s summaries of speakers.  So I was particularly pleased to see Schools Week come up with a headline and article ResearchED 2018 Five interesting things we learned.  I was even more pleased when I saw it contained a short summary of Dr Sam Sims presentation on the positive impact of instructional coaching and references to the statistically significant positive effect of instructional coaching being found in 10 out of 15 studies, which was then used to infer that “probably the best-evidenced form of CPD currently known to mankind”.

For me, this then set off a few alarm bells – not about instructional coaching – but rather what can we legitimately infer and claim when a variety of studies find positive and statistically significant results from the implementation of an intervention in a range of different circumstances.  So to help get to grips with this issue,  I am going to lean heavily on the work of Cartwright and Hardie (2012) to explore the relationship between multiple positive results for an intervention and whether that provides evidence that the intervention will work in your setting

Piling on the evidence

Writing about when RCTS have been conducted in a variety of circumstances, Cartwright and Hardie argue these results can help in justifying a claim that an intervention is effective i.e. it worked somewhere or in a range of different somewheres.

However, this does not provide direct evidence that the intervention  will work here in your circumstance or setting. Cartwright and Hardie argue that seeing the same intervention works in a variety of different circumstances, provides some evidence that the intervention can play a causal role in bringing about the desired change.   It may also provide evidence that the support factors for the intervention to work occur in a number of different settings.  On the other hand, an intervention working in lots of places is only relevant to whether an intervention will work here, if certain assumptions are met.  That is, the intervention can play the same causal role here as it did there.  Second, the support factors necessary for the intervention to play a positive causal role here, are available for some individual post implementation.

Cartwright and Hardie go onto explain about how ‘ it works there, there and there, is supposed to provide evidence that it work here.

X plays a cause role in situation 1
X plays a causal role in situation 2
So X plays a causal role everywhere.

For this argument to be robust – it requires research studies/RCTs from a wide range of settings.  In addition, it requires the observations to be generalisable across settings, but also what types of settings that they are likely to be generalisable.  In addition, it is necessary to take into account the causal connections at work, and how they are influenced by the local support factors.

Problems with induction - a sidebar

At this point it worth remembering that all inductive inferences can be wrong.  Kvernbekk (2016) cites the Bertrand Russell who talks about a chicken

Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who usually feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to misleading.  The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined vies as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.

As such we ourselves may be no better positions than the chicken which unexpectedly has its neck wrung.

Nevertheless, Cartwright and Hardie go onto argue that lots of positive RCTS results are a good indicator that the intervention plays the same causal role widely enough for it to potentially ‘carry’ to your setting.  However, this is based on the argument that RCTS are carried out in a sufficiently wide range of settings, with some ideally similar to your own, so that you are able to make some generalisations from there to here.  Cartwright and Hardie then go onto argue ‘that bet is always a little bit dicey.’

Discussion and implications

First, be wary of headlines or soundbites – it’s rarely that straightforward.

Second, if you can, access the original research which was used for the headline and read it for yourself, as there may be a range of nuances which you need to be aware of.

Third, if you thinking  that  instructional coaching  might have potential for your school, you need to spend time thinking about the causal roles and support factors necessary to give the intervention a chance of working.  Indeed, you may want to have a look at this post on causal cakes.

Fourth, as Cartwright and Hardie argue – thinking about causal roles and support factors is difficult and hard work and is difficult to get right every time.  However, it’s not beyond you and other colleagues to have a serious discussion about what’s necessary to put in place in order to give an intervention every chance of success.

Fifth, there is a whole separate discussion about whether statistical significance can tell you anything useful at all - which if you not aware of then it's worth having a look at Gorard et al (2017)

And finally

In next week’s post I will be using the work of Kvernbekk (2016) to explore in more detail the challenge of making what worked there work here.

References

Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J. (2012). Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing It Better. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Gorard, S., See, B. and Siddiqui, N. (2017). The Trials of Evidence-Based Education. London. Routledge
Kvernbekk, T. (2016). Evidence-Based Practice in Education: Functions of Evidence and Causal Presuppositions. London. Routledge.





My new book is due out at the end of September 2018

https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/evidence-based-school-leadership-and-management/book257046

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