Why is there such a gap between research and practice?

Christine R. Grima ­Farrell, Alan Bain and Sarah H. McDonagh (2011). Bridging the Research ­to  Practice Gap: A Review of the Literature Focusing on Inclusive Education. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 35, pp 117­136

Despite advances in our knowledge of evidence-based inclusive educational practice, much of this knowledge does not reach routine classroom practice. There remains a significant gap between our accumulated knowledge about what can work in classrooms and the extent to which evidence-based practice is used in sustainable ways. This inability to bridge the research-to-practice gap has an adverse effect on the progress of inclusion in schools and the ability of individual teachers to respond to the needs of all students. This review examines those factors that both enable and interfere with the successful translation of research to practice in education settings.

This is an interesting research article into the evidence based practices that effectively contribute to sustained researched based  projects.  Sounds like a bit of a mouthful but in general terms it means the authors have sought to address the question, why is it that there still exists a gap between inclusive education research and current practice in schools?  If it is agreed by all that inclusive education is ethically just then and there is a constant publication of research to support it then why is it not happening?

You do not have to do much reading into inclusive education before you quickly realize that there is a spectrum of definitions.  The researchers in this study identified inclusion as an approach to meeting the needs of all students with and without disability (p.118). This seems to me like a grey definition leaving it open to the readers interpretation.  Does meeting the needs of all students mean that students with disability are segregated having their needs met in the same school? or does it mean they are in the same classroom.  What the writers do state however that inclusive education is a whole school concern confirming that students with disability are most effectively educated with all students.

The researchers sourced relevant studies from 1967 to 2011 through the EBSCOhost database.  Studies were included if they were from a peer reviewed journal and identified specific research to practice (RTP) professional development. The researchers sources 1158 articles on research to practice, 440 articles on inclusive education and 80 articles that combined both research to practice and education. The researchers attempted many combinations of search terms to create an exhaustive body of articles referencing research, professional development, inclusive education and special education. A starting review of article abstracts revealed limited discussion of research to practice in regards to inclusive education.

From the articles that examined RTP were based primarily on indirect evidence with a focus on reading. A finding outlined through an article by Carnine (1997) suggested that for research to practice to be effective it required the research to be practical, available to those wanting to use it and also hold a high level of trust that the practice outlined in the research would work (p119).  This built upon works by Guba (1967) Eash (1968) and Coleman (1979) who suggested that RTP often influenced the previous factors through limited links between universities and schools, not enough training of teachers and failure of researchers to communicate their research to schools and practitioners. This communication breakdown was noted as a primary reason why practitioners did not actively seek research based practice (p.119).

To overcome these barriers it was suggested that greater collaboration was needed between researches and practitioners in developing research questions that were "grounded in practice with a focus on efficient and manageable interventions". I cannot agree more to this last statement in wanting to employ evidence based practice only to be held back by intervention that does not fit into the resources (time and personnel) and models of support that I have in place.  Enhancing the relationship between practitioners and researchers it is stated should increase the researches usability. Now I feel that this is obvious. It is the same as a computer program developer working directly for a company instead of developing a generic bit of software that we might buy off of the shelf.

The researchers summarised the way to make research usable, accessible and trustworthy in six principles.

1. Concreteness and specificity of the evidence based practice
2. Scope and magnitude of the practice
3. Linking research ideas to current classroom practice
4. Collaboration with teachers and feedback ensuring links to real life situations
5. frequent and substantive conversation to give teachers the opportunity to provide feedback
6. relating research application to improving learning

(p. 123)

There have been many studies into teachers attitudes towards students with disability so it was interesting to see a focus of this within the research.  Foegen et al (2001) in his study on pre service teachers beliefs found that researchers could improve their reach through the better dissemination of their research to practitioners and subsequently the encouragement of practitioners to be more active in seeking out research.  The very fact that many teachers cannot access research journals without a subscription means that when they finish formal study the world of academia published through journals is closed only to those who are studying.  I do know of organisations providing articles pertaining to the area they are seeking to meet but there is no readily free publications of new research for teachers. Please correct me if I am wrong where else do we go to find the latest evidence based research practice in Australia?

Fullen (2000) a leading writer on education change was quoted as writing that developing teachers through professional development to be active participants in evidence based practice was an ongoing process that needed supporting through coaching and mentoring to address the perceived needs of the student within the individual classroom and schools (p.126).  Further to this, findings indicated that RTP that met the needs of a range of students , teachers were more likely to engage with if it was supported by a number of peers.  This highlighted the need for support networks to be established to allow for discussion around implementation issues (p. 127)

Therefore teacher education was considered to be a leading factor in developing RTP that supported inclusive education. The considerable amount of time it took to organise, implement and monitor collaborative based research projects clearly hamper the collaborative efforts of researchers and practitioners. Researchers and Practitioners need to be realistic change inst going to happen overnight even if the concept is ground breaking.