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Two Decades of Generalizable Evidence on U.S. Instruction from National Surveys

by Eric M. Camburn & Seong Won Han - 2011

Background: Students’ instructional experiences—that is, their experiences working with subject matter during classroom instruction—are a major determinant of how they learn. Given the importance of classroom instruction, valid, generalizable evidence is needed by policymakers, researchers, and practitioners. Over the past two decades, a wealth of generalizable evidence on instruction has been generated by large-scale surveys administered to nationally-representative probability samples. But this vast body of research has not been systematically summarized.

Purpose of the Study: This article attempts to fill a gap in the research by describing evidence on instruction from all surveys conducted between 1987 and 2005 that measured instruction using nationally-representative samples. Our goal is to generate a portrait of the evidence from these surveys that identifies strengths and gaps in the literature and that summarizes what this research base says about the relationship between classroom instruction and student outcomes.

Research Design: Evidence on instruction was compiled and summarized in four steps: (1) all surveys conducted between 1987 and 2005 that measured instruction and were administered to nationally representative probability samples were identified, (2) manuscripts using data from these surveys were selected for review, (3) the dimensions of instruction addressed by each manuscript and other manuscript characteristics were coded, and (4) the methodology and findings of each manuscript were summarized.

Findings: More than half the studies used data more than a decade old; few studies examined instruction during important transition years such as sixth and ninth grade; and subject area emphasis was lopsided, with mathematics and science instruction receiving much greater attention than English/Language Arts and Social Studies. The summary also revealed a repeated finding of low-SES students receiving diminished learning opportunities than more affluent peers. We also found repeated evidence of a positive association with student achievement for six instructional activities, and repeated evidence of a negative or null association with achievement for two instructional activities.

Conclusions: More research is needed on disparities in the instructional experiences of low- and high-income students. More research is also needed on instruction at key transition points and on instruction in English/language arts and social studies. This review also suggests a need for studies that more rigorously test research questions about instruction using measures that more authentically reflect the complexities of instruction and that examine student achievement growth over longer periods of time.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 3, 2011, p. 561-610
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16064, Date Accessed: 4/16/2021 3:49:36 AM

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About the Author
  • Eric Camburn
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    ERIC M. CAMBURN is an Associate Professor in the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Camburn’s current research focuses on how formal and informal learning experiences support the improvement of teaching and leadership practice. A second, and related stream of research focuses on distributed leadership and its role in supporting instructional change. Recent publications include “Investigating Connections Between Distributed Leadership and Instructional Change” in Alma Harris (ed.) Distributed Leadership: Different Perspectives, Springer Press and “Assessing The Validity Of A Language Arts Instruction Log Through Triangulation” appearing in the Elementary School Journal in 2004.
  • Seong Won Han
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    SEONG WON HAN is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently working on a research project which examines the cross-national variations in the distribution of teacher quality, mathematics instruction and student achievement. Her research interests include social stratification, inequality in education, educational policy and school reform.
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