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Poor Implementation of Learner-Centered Practices: A Cautionary Tale


by Gina Schuyler Ikemoto, Jennifer L. Steele & John F. Pane — 2016

Many school systems are adopting new curricula in response to more rigorous standards that require higher-order thinking skills. This article presents implementation findings from a randomized, controlled trial of the Cognitive Tutor Geometry curriculum. We found a significant negative effect on student achievement despite the curriculum’s focus on learner-centered learning strategies that have previously been found to improve students’ ability to meet high mathematics standards. Our research confirms prior research that finds learner-centered instructional practices are correlated with higher student achievement. However, our findings also suggest that learner-centered curricula can actually do more harm than good when implemented poorly. We found that the cognitive demands of the curriculum coupled with teachers’ poor implementation of learner-centered instructional practices seemed to limit students’ ability to engage with the mathematical ideas. Teachers struggled to implement the curriculum because they lacked prior experience with learner-centered teaching strategies, had limited exposure to the curriculum, and were not provided with job-embedded support from principals or instructional leaders within their school. They also worked with students who were reluctant to collaborate and had low prior math achievement. Findings from this study suggest that curriculum adopters should be careful to ensure strong implementation of cognitively demanding curricula. In particular, districts and school leaders should provide intensive job-embedded professional development and support to assist teachers in achieving high implementation.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 13, 2016, p. 1-34
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20563, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 6:44:25 PM

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About the Author
  • Gina Ikemoto
    New Leaders
    E-mail Author
    GINA IKEMOTO, PhD, is an Education Consultant. She has over 20 years of experience studying implementation of education reforms. Dr. Ikemoto has published numerous reports and tools to inform decisions of policy makers, funders, and practitioners at the district, state and federal levels. Some of her recent publications include "Playmakers: How Great Principals Build and Lead Great Teams of Teachers" and "Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions that Enable All Principals to be Effective." Prior to New Leaders, Ikemoto was an Education Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation and taught in Washington, D.C.
  • Jennifer Steele
    American University
    E-mail Author
    JENNIFER STEELE, EdD, is an Associate Professor at American University’s School of Education and an Adjunct Researcher for the RAND Corporation. Her research focuses on urban education policy at the K–12 and postsecondary levels, with a focus on education reform, teacher quality, and transitions between K–12 and higher education. Recent publications include “The Distribution and Mobility of Effective Teachers: Evidence from a Large, Urban School District” in the Economics of Education Review and Competency-Based Education in Three Pilot Programs: Examining Implementation and Outcomes, published by the RAND Corporation.
  • John Pane
    RAND Corporation
    E-mail Author
    JOHN PANE, PhD, is a Senior Scientist at the RAND Corporation and a Professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He researches the implementation and effectiveness of educational innovations, with a focus on math, science, and education technology initiatives. His expertise includes the application of experimental and rigorous quasi-experimental methods in education settings and assessing the impact of new technologies. Recent publications include “Effectiveness of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I at Scale” in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and “An Experiment to Evaluate the Efficacy of Cognitive Tutor Geometry” in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.
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