Evaluating curricula: #5
What do the three committee members learn about research?
As they settled into Professor Bebopp’s tiny office, Jamie again heard Professor Bebopp say, “Oh my god,” during Anna’s introduction of the reason for the meeting. She felt uneasy.
As Jamie looked at her colleagues, she wondered, “What does that mean? She sounded unhappy with the idea. What’s the matter?” Jamie didn’t have to wait long to hear more. She blurted, “We just want to know if one curriculum is more effective than the others.”
“We just don’t do that kind of research,” Professor Bebopp said. “That’s horse-race research. We just don’t want to study who wins, we want to know what people think about the race and the horses...to use your meta...to continue the metaphor.”
Although everyone in the tiny office was very quiet for a moment, Anna broke the silence and asked a question: “You know, Brenda, we’re not researchers. What is ‘horse-race research?’”
Jamie, who had been fretting that her question was either misunderstood or she was in way over her head, heard Professor Bebopp begin responding in a cadence that was familiar from her recent phone conversation with her.
“Wellll,” Professor Bebopp began, “You know, there are studies like you describe. They are experiments. They are used with rats and the like. Which rats can get through the maze faster? And some people try to use the same methods to test teaching. Who can learn the ABCs faster, for example. Those experimental studies only show a pin prick of information; they ignore the human experience. And they are so tightly controlled that they are, they are like…they are just laboratory studies with little resemblance to the world in which teachers and children truly live. We focus... wellllll, our studies are about what people think and feel. We care more about the people than the methods.”
Jamie glanced at Anna and hoped her face didn’t show her disappointment. She felt deflated. Maybe her interest in students’ outcomes, their accomplishments, was misplaced. She hadn’t really thought about this...maybe what kids “believed” they were achieving was really the important part. But, wait, was it more important than what they actually were achieving? Sheesh, that was inconsistent with her experience: When kids were doing well, that was when they felt good about themselves. Wait, Al’s about to say something.
Somewhere around that time, Alberto threw a life-saver to everyone. “You know,” he said, “I think we are, how do you say it in English? ‘Starting with a limp?’ ‘Starting off on the wrong foot?’” He paused and sighed, but then he knew he had everyone’s attention, so he continued.
“Professor, we are not asking you to conduct the research we think we need.” Alberto said, “We hope you can guide us to that research.”
“Oh! Well, that’s a good point, Dr. Monterey.” She looked quickly at Alberto (who smiled wanly at the name, “doctor”) and then she studied the ceiling. “You know, that kind of research is very costly. I don’t think MPS would be able to sponsor it.” Professor Bebopp then looked at Anna and continued, “You know, our administrators say we researchers have to have external funding for studies like you’re suggesting?”
As Jamie listened to Professor Bebopp, she thought, “Anna is realizing this is a dead end. Let’s get out of here.”
Anna, said, “Even though we’ve only been here a few minutes, I’ve learned a lot. I’d never heard of ‘horse-race research!’ Now I understand that it’s only one kind of research.” She continued, “And, Alberto is right. It’s good that we’ve clarified that we’re not proposing to issue a grant for a research project. So, please let us discuss, and then get back to you, Brenda, with more refined questions.”
Jamie and Alberto, almost simultaneously, added words to the effect of thanking Professor Bebopp for her time and explanations as they stood up. The three educators rose, reached out to Professor Bebopp to shake hands, and started for the door. As they were leaving, Professor Bebopp cheerily said, “Thanks for coming...and let me know how I can help.”
As Jamie, Anna, and Alberto walked along the halls and rode in the elevator (Anna led them to it), there were lots of long quiet periods punctuated by instances of reflection (Alberto: “That was a very diplomatic ending, Anna”; Anna: “Your point about the wrong foot was right on the money, Alberto.”). Jamie, however, did not have much to say; she felt a combination of confusion and rejection, as if she’d been dismissed as a fool.
As they were exiting the building, Jamie saw Alberto shake his head once or twice and sort of chuckle softly while he was holding the door.
“What’s funny, Al?” Jamie asked.
“Oh, nothing, really,” Alberto replied. “I was just surprised, you know, that I had a doctorate and that the schools were named after my family.” He chuckled again and smiled, as he pulled his phone from a sports-coat pocket. “Doctor Monterey. At your service,” he said to Jamie and Anna, as he began to punch in a phone number.
“Yes, I caught that,” Anna remarked. “I think she was a bit confused.”
Alberto pulled his phone away from his jaw. “I’m not worried. It’s just a mistake,” he said. “People make mistakes. Go ahead. I’ll catch up…. Pete? It’s Al….”
When they got to the spots where they’d parked their cars—Jamie knew the spot, right next to the dumpster—neither Jamie nor Anna could find their cars. There were many empty spaces, and their cars were gone.
“Alberto,” Jamie asked, “Is your car gone, too?”
“No,” Alberto replied; he had caught up with them. “I had one of my people drop me here. I just called him, and he’s on his way.”
“Oh, wow. Smart.” Anna said. “Damn. And it’s winter break. Look at all these empty spaces.... Why would the university try to make money off us?”
Standing somewhat slumped and with his hands in his pants pockets, Alberto responded to Anna softly, “I suspect it’s not the school, Anna. I bet it’s the towing company that’s making the money.”
“Oh. Probably right,” Anna replied.
“Don’t worry,” Alberto said. “‘Doctor’ Montoya’s driver will take you to the impound lot.”