AERA Conference

By Beverley Hartman, Head Teacher

“High levels of educational achievement cannot be accomplished without addressing issues related to poverty in this country,” said Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, PhD, in a prominent lecture at this year’s annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

“Innovation, without systematic change, is not enough,” asserted Darling-Hammond during her talk, “What Kind of Change Can We Believe In? Toward an Equitable System of Good Schools,” which the association honored with the 2009 Distinguished Contributions to Education Research Award.

The meeting, held April 30-May 4 in Denver, Colo., attracted over 13,000 education researchers from around the world. Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor in the School of Education, emphasized in her talk how an understanding of current educational research is essential for teachers to improve practice.

In her lecture, Darling-Hammond outlined the current state of education in the United States. She presented the circumstances that contribute to the nation’s increasing achievement gap and how the declining educational system impacts the health of our society. Darling-Hammond called upon the United States to face the systematic issues, including unequal school funding, segregation, tracking, problems with teacher education and distribution, and disparities in resources and experiences available to students. Darling-Hammond was resolute in her conviction that “this can be done.”

Countries that invest in education make gains, said Darling-Hammond, and many use educational research from the United States to determine their approach. Investment in high-quality preschool with highly prepared teachers was one of the ideas she advanced.

Among the others:

• Improve the quality of teachers through more extensive coursework in content and content pedagogy,

• Raise teachers’ salaries,

• Offer service scholarships,

• Institute mandatory mentoring and high-quality professional development that supports systematic change,

• Equalize access to educational resources,

• Build a strong, diverse teaching force,

• Organize curriculum on higher-level thinking and performance skills,

• Invest in the transformation of high-need schools,

• Reframe accountability to emphasize growth and support for thoughtful school improvement.

A new book by Darling-Hammond, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (Teachers College Press, 2010), is likely at the top of the must-read list for many researchers and educators. The opportunity to hear directly from leaders in education and to attend workshops focused on early education and child development makes the AERA annual meeting a worthwhile conference with lasting impact.