SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

This article describes an experiment utilizing a research and development strategy to design and implement an innovative school for the future. The development of Cramim Elementary School was a joint effort of researchers from Tel-Aviv University and the staff of the school. The design stage involved constructing a new theoretical framework that defined school as a knowledge system, based on the state of the art, interdisciplinary study of the nature of humans, and the nature of knowledge. A new school design emerged based on this theoretical framework and the school was opened in 1995. Action research followed for 8 years and the results indicated that the school has emerged as a learning organization and successfully integrated knowledge technologies into the learning processes of both students and teachers. Differentiated teaching strategy resulted in a significant increase in achievements (+11% in maths, literacy, and science; +10% in literacy in kindergarten; persistence of higher achievement in junior high schools). The greatest beneficiaries were low-achieving students. As the school is a highly complex system, individual variables contributing to the increased effectiveness could not be isolated. The article's conclusion is that experimental schools are a productive strategy to bring about changes, but unless these schools are part and parcel of the culture of the mainstream education system culture, they are destined to remain isolated cases.

Education is an all-encompassing institution where schools can be found in each and every continent, culture, and society; their functional principles, organizational structure, and modus operandi are quite universal.

Schooling as a mass education organization is a 19th-century institution which has not changed significantly to adapt to the 21st-century socialcultural needs—whether in developed or underdeveloped countries. Many measures have been taken to change schooling. The large number of educational reforms enacted so far suggests that we know what the solutions are for what seems to be an ineffective system. However, it is very clear that there is no universal agreement as to what the problems are and, “if you don't know where you want to sail, how do you know whether the wind is blowing in the right direction?”

In order to better understand the educational change efforts, we have to distinguish between international and national perspectives. In the international arena, there are tremendous efforts to change and upgrade the system. The goals of this effort were defined by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Dakar declaration (2000): to improve early childhood care and education; to provide access and complete free compulsory primary education of good quality for all; to provide appropriate programs for learning life skills; to raise adult literacy by 50% and to eliminate gender disparity and gain literacy, numeracy, and essential life skills. Despite the fact that 164 countries signed the pact and billions of dollars were invested by the World Bank and donor countries, there were still 810 million illiterate adults and 100 million children who did not go to school in 2005. However, even in the 41 countries that have reached those basic goals, education is still considered “in crisis” and in need of change (School Reform, 2001). Recent international comparative studies, such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) (Martin, 2004) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Kozma, 2003; OECD, 2007), have provided ample evidence concerning the host of problems contemporary schools face even in the highly developed countries, the major problem being low average achievements in the subject matter.

In this article we are concerned mainly with the change strategies currently employed by educational agencies in the developed countries. We argue that the contemporary reform change strategies, whether systemic or partial, are based on a trial and error principle that is costly and ineffective (Chen, 2006; Elmore, 2005; Tyak & Cuban, 1995). Most modern organizations such as industry, business, medicine, agriculture, or military create change through systematic research and development based on rational principles of problem solving via experimentation, planning for implementation, and diffusion (Chen, 2006; Fischer, 2009; Hinton & Fischer, 2008).

In this article we describe an empirical and authentic case study of an effort to bring about educational change via the strategy of research and development at the scale of a single school. We call this school (Cramim) an “experimental school,” but it is similar to what Hinton and Fischer (2008) call a “research school.” The case study consists of the following stages:

  • 1
    The theoretical design of an experimental school (Cramim) and its translation into a practical and operational design.
  • 2
    Implementing the design into an experimental school combined with an action research program.
  • 3
    Summarizing 10 years of schooling and research—the emerging model for educational change strategy.

THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

In the early 1990s, the Israeli Ministry of Education issued a request for proposal inviting “an innovative school of the future design that would remain within the standard budgetary constraints of a regular primary school.”

Our proposal consisted of three stages, planning, implementation, and research, and was accepted in 1992; the newly built school was opened in 1995 and has been in operation for the past 13 years serving about 900 children between the ages of 5 and 12, all coming from the local community. In 2005 we completed 10 years of action research, and details of the emergence of an experimental school model are provided here.

RESEARCH FRAMEWORK

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

The knowledge accumulated regarding the experimental school (research school) was constructed by combining two perspectives:

  • 1
    The first one is the schools' internal perspective. This was based on the school documentation, teachers' studies within individual theses, and internal evaluation.
  • 2
    The second one is based on formal academic research and external evaluation. The university coordinated research consisting of studies by 2 PhD research students, 13 MSc theses, 2 Ministry of Education evaluation studies, and 2 studies in coordination with international studies (ISTD and TIMSS).

The two perspectives were combined by the joint partnership of two institutions—the Cramim Experimental School and Tel-Aviv University Experimental School Research Project. Figure 1 represents the unique partnership research model.

image

Figure 1. The Cramim research partnership model.

Download figure to PowerPoint

The close relationships and the cooperation between the university and the experimental school thus allowed the emerging knowledge regarding Cramim to be cross-validated and deeply engrained in reality.

The internal perspective of the school provides the products of the learning organization—the shared core knowledge that emerges as a result of teachers' studies, internal evaluation, and cumulative experience. The external perspective is based on a stepwise learning process based on coordinated research studies carried out independently by several agencies over time. The two perspectives are thus merged into a comprehensive evidence-based understanding of the complex system called an experimental school.

STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

For 3 years I led a small team that met regularly to produce the design of “the school of the future.” The underlying principles of the school design were based on the theoretical construct (Chen, 1992) that “education is a knowledge system mediating between phylogenetic (public) knowledge and ontogenetic (individual) knowledge. Currently, this complex equilibrium is significantly changing as a result of the emergence of knowledge technologies” (see Figure 2).

image

Figure 2. Education as a knowledge system.

Download figure to PowerPoint

Implicit in this construct is the notion that innovative schooling calls first and foremost for an innovative theoretical framework. Three major principles were explored prior to the actual school design: the nature of human, the nature of knowledge, and the modern cultural milieu.

The Nature of Human Beings

It is beyond the scope of this article to review the vast scientific literature that extended our understanding of the nature of humanity toward the beginning of the third millennium. A host of pertinent disciplines emerged regarding the study of human development and learning—ethology, anthropology, the human genome, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, social neuroscience, population genetics, sociobiology, cognitive science, neuroscience philosophy, molecular biology, endocrinology, and more.

The interdisciplinary research concerning human development and learning can be summarized into four major understandings that provided a new theoretical framework for educational policy and practice. The four understandings are as follows:

  • 1
    Ontogenesis (individual child development) is the result of coevolution of nature and nurture (Pinker, 2002). Both interact dynamically to allow the phenotype to differentiate and emerge. Even if the environment (family, school, culture) affects about 30% of the variance of either intelligence or school achievements (Plomin, Defries, McLearn, & Rutter, 1997), this still represents a highly significant degree of freedom for the impact of education.
  • 2
    Learning is a nonlinear, distributed, complex process. Memory and motivation are central to this process but the complex nature of learning emanates from the multiple variables involved (Minsky, 1985). Thus, viewing learning must be based on complex, dynamic system behavior modeling rather than the simplistic input–output linear model of the relation between isolated variables, such as teaching and achievement (Cacioppe, Berntson, Taylor, & Schacter, 2002).
  • 3
    The diversity of Homo sapiens populations is mainly the result of the polygenic nature of behavioral traits. Most populations maintain great genetic variability for polygenic traits. The phenotypic expression of most polygenic characteristics is subject to considerable influence by environmental factors during development (Levontin, 1995).
    Human individual differences are the major source of cultural diversity and the richness of human creativity in the arts, science, technology, and humanistic endeavors (Hartlage & Telzrow, 1985). Thus, educational policies aimed at “standardizing” the student population are not only futile, but ultimately counterproductive to any humanistic goal of education.
  • 4
    Biological constraints limit the understanding of the world to those elements that can be approached concretely and directly by human senses to the order of magnitude of about inline image. The scientific enterprise has extended this world view using abstraction to the order of magnitude of inline image (Morrison & Morrison, 1977). If the entire world that humanity can know is of the magnitude of inline image , about 85% of the scientific literacy depends on mastery of abstract cognitive processing.

Thus, the findings of contemporary research concerning the nature of human can be adapted to the following educational policy guidelines:

  • Education is not omnipotent. It is but one partner among other environmental factors that affect child development. Coordination and adaptation between the various cultural–social knowledge agents is required in order to improve educational outcomes.
  • The understanding of the teaching–learning process should have a higher priority than increasing inputs without that understanding (money, time, information).
  • Diversity (individual difference) is the source of cultural richness and creativity and therefore should be cultivated rather than eliminated by standardization policies.
  • Education should be concerned about the pursuit of what Piaget and Inhelder (1969) called formal operations (also called abstract thinking) as the major facilitation of cultural literacy. It should be central to pedagogical research and practice.

The Nature of Knowledge

Understanding the nature of human knowledge is crucial for educational theory—not just for analyzing the cognitive processes involved in learning, but for appreciating correctly the curriculum issues so central to schooling.

The basics of curriculum theory draw from Wiles (2005). However, the information revolution and the knowledge age call for reconsideration of the underlying principles regarding phylogenetic knowledge. In the following analysis we draw from information theory (Shannon & Weaver, 1963), cognitive science (Churchland, 2002), scientometrics (de Solla Price, 1961), and media studies (McLuhan & Powers, 1989).

The paradigm shift in our understanding of the nature of knowledge is presented as follows:

From Linear to 3D Representation of Knowledge

The linguistics linear model has been the dominant one in a text-based society and practically all major elements of school are designed by the linearity principle (curriculum, pedagogy, architecture, time, etc.). However, as more and more knowledge is represented in digital form, the “knowledge space” 3D metaphor is increasingly more applicable either for knowledge engineering or for the learning interface between learner and knowledge.

From Static to Dynamic Knowledge Representation

Classical curriculum and schooling dogmas are based on textbook, course, lesson, and diploma—notions emanating from the belief in the static nature of knowledge. However, the dynamic nature of public knowledge has been demonstrated by exponential growth curves, the studies of information theory, and the computer sciences (Shannon & Weaver, 1963; de Solla Price, 1961). As 90% of all new knowledge is encoded digitally, it is high time to shift our vision of the nature of knowledge into a dynamic framework.

From Symbolic to Multirepresentation Mode

Reading and writing are the essential skills necessary for literacy. The major goal of contemporary primary education, being able to decode the symbolic system, is considered to be the key to the world of text-based knowledge. However, much of contemporary human knowledge is represented in multimedia—as visual-acoustical, as well as artifacts amenable for interactive learning.

Thus, symbolic knowledge representation remains efficient and important but multimedia representations are opening up new and alternative channels for learning. The return to an oral and visual culture must be seriously considered by education theory (McLuhan & Powers, 1989; Ong, 1988).

From Finite to Infinite Knowledge Space

The “information explosion” and the “knowledge age” are the terms describing the results of the exponential growth of public knowledge (de Solla Price, 1961). The knowledge equivalent of nearly 1 million new titles of books is published every year. The doubling time for disciplinary knowledge is anywhere between 1 year and several years.

This evokes the notion of knowledge as an infinite entity, and education should draw very humble and realistic goals for the individual learner.

From Local to Ubiquitous Representation of Knowledge

While the traditional sources of authoritative knowledge were personalities of the old wise human, the teacher, the scientist, and the book, it is no longer true in the modern era. The media (private or public) and the Internet have become the most powerful carriers and mediators of knowledge. The production and dissemination of public knowledge no longer obey traditional objectivization processes. Commercial, political, and ideological interests are forcefully driving out both the production and distribution of knowledge utilizing the media as well as the information highway. Thus, the transformation of knowledge representation, as well as the changes in the modes of the production and distribution of knowledge, calls for a comprehensive examination of the set of learning goals, the construction of a modern curriculum, and the design of new learning environments that will foster the interface between the multitude of knowledge representations and the nature of the learner.

The Sociocultural Milieu

The sociocultural milieu provides the context within which the educational process takes place. The sociocultural milieu is highly diverse, and when we talk about the characteristics of the “knowledge age” society we are relating mostly to Western civilization.

The McLuhan metaphor of the world becoming a global village (McLuhan & Powers, 1989) is perhaps the best to point to the direction of a process rather than establishing a standard, universal description of the world we live in. The implications of the state of the sociocultural milieu for education are twofold.

On the one hand, school systems should cater to the diversified needs of their local communities—in terms of human capital development, literacy, religion, and shared value systems.

On the other hand, school systems should respond to the universal asset of globalization. Perhaps, Medow's slogan—“think globally, act locally”—is helpful in guiding educational policy. Some of the universal issues calling for education in a global context relate to English as a second language, technological literacy, ecological literacy, health issues (HIV, other epidemics), human rights, civic education, and gender parity (World Bank, 2000).

Synthesis of the Theoretical Framework

The synthesis suggested here provides a theoretical framework for education. Education is defined as the sociocultural institution that mediates between phylogenetic (public) and ontogenetic (individual) knowledge. The curriculum is the representation and organization of the collective public knowledge for learning purposes. Technology has transformed the classic representation of knowledge in symbolic mode into digital, visual, and acoustical modes in addition to alphanumeric representation. This should have an impact on the theoretical foundations of the curriculum as well as on the principles of learning in a digital learning environment.

Our modern understanding of the nature of human beings interpreted for educational policies and practices should result in the following:

  • Education should be effective within the constraints of the environmental impact on behavior.
  • Learning is a nonlinear, complex process, and thus we should not expect linear relationships between inputs and achievements.
  • The individual rather than the group should be the unit of operation in every educational setting, and the goals of schooling should entertain diversity, not uniformity (standardization).
  • Equal opportunity is achieved by providing differential treatments and resources.
  • Last, but not least, achieving formal operations should be a priority of enhancing cognitive development among school graduates.

This broad and abstract theoretical framework needs experimental exploration. This is what the following experimental school is about.

STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

Against Dogma

The Ministry decision to call for the design of 10 experimental schools was not a strategic decision. Its basic assumptions were against the dogma of governance of a centralized educational system. Nevertheless, out of the 10 planned schools this was the only one to be fully supported and implemented.

The Timeline for the Experiment

We can distinguish three phases of the innovative school life cycle: The first phase (1993–1994) consisted of design, planning, construction, and teaming. The second phase (1995–1997) consisted of formal opening, staff development, and establishing a learning community. The third phase (1998–2006) consisted of stabilization, research, and evaluation.

The experimental school is described in detail below.

Setting the Goals

The school vision was translated into operational goals, some of which are highly universal and some are distinctive to Cramim. The potential tension between national and school goals needed special attention during early staff development sessions.

The Ten School Goals

  • 1
    Cultivate each and every individual child.
  • 2
    Understand and respect human diversity.
  • 3
    Understand and respect cultural diversity.
  • 4
    Construct a science-based world view.
  • 5
    Prepare the student as a citizen of the global village.
  • 6
    Prepare for democracy, law, and social order.
  • 7
    Learn the best of cultural heritage: liberal arts, science, math, technology.
  • 8
    Cultivate creativity.
  • 9
    Learn to use analytical, critical, and systems thinking.
  • 10
    Aspire to cultivate formal thinking.

School–Community Relationships

Right from the beginning, home was considered an important part of the learning environment, and parents were expected to be partners (rather than clients) in the education of their children.

School Organization

The entrance age to the school was determined to be 5. Thus, what is considered in Israel to be kindergarten (age 5–6) is in fact an integral part of the school. The school consists of seven age cohorts, and the total number of students was approximately 900. It is regarded as a large primary school (nearly double an average primary school in Israel). This scale was purposely chosen in order to increase the school's overall resources, which could then be redistributed. Maintaining intimacy does not necessarily depend on the ultimate size of the organization, but rather on the state of the school climate and on providing organizational solutions that enable warm social relationships.

The large body of 900 students was divided into three organized subunits: early childhood, middle section, and the graduate section (ages 5–7, 8–9, 10–11, accordingly). The basic organizational unit was named “home,” implying that this is the social unit which provides stable affiliation to a physical space and a constant framework for children and teachers. Each home included between 70 and 80 children, of two age cohorts, thus partially nongraded. Every year, half of the children in every home—the older age cohort—were moved to the next subunit, so socially the home constitution changed every year to enable social mobility and new opportunities to have new friends and work with new teachers.

In addition to the 14 homes, specialized learning centers were provided for science, technology, special needs, and learning resources. Each home had two to three adult teachers and each teacher had three professional affiliations: home, subunit, and the subject matter interest group. Each subunit had a coordinator and the three coordinators formed with the school principal the school management forum. This structure provided both longitudinal and vertical coordination and cooperation between staff members.

School Architecture

The basic elements of Cramim's architectural designs are as follows (the school architect was Nir Chen). The basic learning environment is the home (see Figure 3).

image

Figure 3. The “home” learning environment.

Download figure to PowerPoint

Each home has three kinds of learning environment: (a) the communal area, where all 80 children can meet and learn; (b) the computer garden, where about one third of the group could study individually or in small groups; and (c) the classroom, with a somewhat traditional setting for one third of the group. The homes of the early childhood subunit were physically separated from the rest of the school. The overall architectural view is presented in Figure 4.

image

Figure 4. The school building.

Download figure to PowerPoint

The following are the remainder of the functional areas of the school: science center, technology center, music center, media center, art center, and a theater for large group gatherings for learning, lectures, and entertainment.

Significant space was given to the teachers' center, including individual studying and a parents' clinic. The resource center consisted of a traditional library and a media center serving the entire school.

The administration center included the following: school principal's office, research office, reception, and secretarial space. All the furniture was tailored to the specific requirements of the school. A building, in principle, is a very inflexible structure; however, the principles of the design of this particular school allowed maximum flexibility in organizing the learning environments—from the individual level to the whole school, from children to adults.

The Knowledge Technologies Infrastructure

Constructing the knowledge technology infrastructure of Cramim was a challenge pursued in cooperation with IBM Israel and at the time provided a generous computation platform with 300 computers networked.

By industry standards such a system should have three operating technicians but no such position was provided by the Ministry. The research center hired a knowledge engineer (the school knowledge engineer was Geni Griefer) and a technician to handle the information system.

In the first 2 years, the university provided the initial training and support, but it was the knowledge engineer who enabled the continuous application and further development of the system. The distribution of computer gardens in all learning environments and the successful teachers' network contributed much to the successful learning in Cramim.

The Curriculum

The school curriculum presented a serious challenge. In Israel the curriculum is central and compulsory. There was no way the school could develop its own idiosyncratic notion of curriculum, nor were there resources to carry out the development of a working model. Thus a compromised model was devised that served the teaching and learning process, signifying that the national curriculum in print form was adapted to groups and individual learners by the teachers.

It was only evident now that the old curriculum theory was completely obsolete and unable to provide appropriate solutions for the knowledge age. Thus, the rich technology served mainly to individualize and enrich the text-based process of teaching and learning.

Pedagogies

The teachers who arrived at the school were trained at teachers' colleges to confront large classes, cope with the complexities of child development, and master some of the subject matters they would teach. However, at best, they were trained to teach in an ongoing contemporary school. In contrast, during the early days of the experimental school, while teachers were internalizing the highly theoretical framework, they had no practical guidelines regarding the pedagogies that would best serve the ideal goals of the school. Dealing with this issue was entirely the enterprise of the school principal (the school principal was Yafa Ben-Ami) and the team of teachers, leading their own version of pedagogy from the known to the unknown.

This process, referred to in the literature as professional development, was based on transforming each and every teacher into a partner in the learning organization (Argyris & Shon, 1996; Senge, 2000). The school principal aimed to shape the emergence of a learning community that slowly defined its own pedagogies serving the individual development of a diverse group of children.

The so-called practical core knowledge of the school (knowledge in action, according to Argyris) emerged collectively during the years of gained experience and will soon be published.

Problems

Operating experimental schools, which are different in many ways from traditional schools, raised many problems that the school had to face. We describe some of them here:

  • Experimental schooling is not yet part of the policy of the Israeli centralized system; thus, there was no continuity of support to the school.
  • The school had to face local political opposition, without the support of the Ministry.
  • The school needed extra resources for research and development.
  • At the time, no one had experience in operating a computer learning environment at this scale, and so the school had to cope with technological as well as pedagogical problems by itself.

Currently, the school continues to function, particularly because of its successful achievements. However, scaling up the experiment to other schools depends totally on policy changes in the centralized system.

MAJOR RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

The School as a Learning Organization

A major concept applied during the organizational development of the school was that of the “learning organization” (Argyris & Shon, 1996; Senge, 2000). Both the leadership and the research that the school principal, Yafa Ben-Ami, provided enabled the school to become a learning organization by all criteria (2003). According to Ben-Ami, focusing on institutional knowledge management, integrated with intensive e-mail networking, allowed the build-up of institutional collective knowledge. This pattern of communication and interchange became an extension of the actual school community rather than a separate entity of a virtual community. Figure 5 summarizes the findings concerning the school as a learning organization.

image

Figure 5. School as a learning organization. Source: Adapted from Ben-Ami (2003).

Download figure to PowerPoint

Institutional wisdom is based on two complementary bodies of knowledge—core knowledge and supporting knowledge. Core knowledge was constructed throughout the organizational development of the school and represents the collective wisdom of the institution. Its major elements are shared vision, common goals, basic principles, shared values, pedagogical strategies, and core curriculum. Supporting knowledge has to do with the processes of organizational learning. This knowledge is transient and labile and at times tacit. It consists of essential assessments, professional development, social networking, community cooperation, adaptation of subject matter, problem solving, and decision making.

The emergence of the school as a learning organization grew from the central principle of learning and professional growth of the school staff. By the end of 10 years, 31 teachers had completed graduate studies toward their MA and 4 had enrolled in PhD programs.

The following were the organizational frameworks supporting staff development where each teacher belonged to three professional forums: (a) home unit and subject matter specialists; (b) the learning electronic network; and (c) weekly, monthly, and yearly professional seminars. All this collectively enabled the transformation from a routinely operating school to a learning organization. Thus the school has become a knowledge system and can be analyzed as such.

The Role of Knowledge Technology in the School

The role of knowledge technology is central to the theoretical framework of the school. Whether or not digital media are changing, cognition goes far beyond the scope of this study. However, Cramim was studied by Mioduser, Nachmias, Forkush, and Tubin (2001) as part of the OECD international study SITEM2. Just 8 schools out of the 176 under study were found to have a system of innovative change driven by information/communication technology (Kozma, 2003). The mastery of computer skills in Cramim was very high compared to the traditional school (Chen, Tubin, & Ben-Ami, 2002). Ben-Ami (2003) has shown that the language used in 3,000 analyzed e-mails represent an intermediate genre between writing and speech.

While the professional leadership of the knowledge engineer in the school was indispensable to the technology implementation and successful daily operation, the overall model of integration of technology and learning is still far from being realized. The following call for extensive research and development: (a) theoretical framework of knowledge representation for learning, (b) integration of learning inside and outside the school, (c) pedagogies of utilizing technologies for teaching, and (d) understanding the nature of learning of digitally represented knowledge.

Achievements

Even though the experimental school under study has a broad agenda, the public verdict regarding success or failure of the experiment would heavily lean on the results of achievement testing. That is why we have been waiting for the school to stabilize and then carefully administer several national tests in addition to the national report cards testing in 2003/2005. The data thus presented are mainly based on three studies: Chen et al. (2002), National Report Card (2003, 2005), and Tubin, Likriz, and Chen (2004).

In the first study we have used TIMSS tests to study the achievements of fourth-graders in mathematics and science. The results are unequivocally clear. The experimental school students scored 79 points in mathematics compared to 70, the average in Israeli schools and 62, the average international achievement (see Figure 6).

image

Figure 6. Achievement in mathematics (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study based).

Download figure to PowerPoint

The science score was accordingly 63 for the school, 59 for Israel, and 58 at the international level—not as impressive as the mathematics score but still higher than the Israeli average (see Figure 7).

image

Figure 7. Achievement in science (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study based).

Download figure to PowerPoint

In both 2003 and 2005 the Ministry of Education administered a national study of the schools of Israel called “MEITZAV” which is equivalent to a national report card. Out of that study, the results concerning Cramim School is presented in Table 1. The results show continued progress in the achievements in the four subjects tested, and the average achievements are about 11% above the national norm for similar schools.

Table 1.  National Report Card—2003 and 2005 Achievements
SubjectAverage grade
20032005
Language 76 82
Mathematics 74 79
Science and technology 74 87
English 85 92

During the past 10 years, the Cramim model was extended locally to an additional eight schools. A study of the national report card in 2004 (Chen, 2004) shows that in all the experimental schools in this consortium, comprising 5,572 students, the relative grades in all four subjects were significantly higher than the national norm (see Figure 8).

image

Figure 8. Cramim consortium achievement in four subjects.

Download figure to PowerPoint

The extent to which the advantage of students in the experimental schools persists in a conventional junior high school was studied (Tubin et al., 2004) by testing all students enrolled in the local junior high school, then sorting out the graduates of Cramim after the tests and comparing them with graduates of regular schools.

In Table 2 the achievement scores of Cramim graduates in four subjects are compared to graduates from regular schools after a year in junior high school. The results clearly show that (a) graduates of the experimental school score higher in each of the four subjects than graduates of the regular schools and (b) the advantage of the experimental school persists in the standard learning environment of the junior high school.

Table 2.  Persistence of Achievements of Cramim Graduates
SubjectSchool
Experimental (SD) school students' gradeRegular (SD) school students' grade
  1. *p < .05.

  2. **p < .01.

Mathematics80 (16)**74 (18)
Hebrew78 (15)**70 (17)
Geography69 (16)*64 (16)
English75 (19)73 (18)

The distribution of the average grade frequency in the classroom population was measured (see Figure 9). This distribution pattern suggests that it is the low-achieving students who benefit mostly from the experimental school learning environment.

image

Figure 9. Distribution of average grade frequency in four subjects.

Download figure to PowerPoint

It is also evident from the bipolar distribution pattern of motivation (see Figure 10) that the increased motivation of Cramim graduates is fueled by the lower echelon students in the regular school.

image

Figure 10. Distribution of students' motivation.

Download figure to PowerPoint

In a recent study (Barzilai, 2006) the early childhood unit (ages 5–7) was studied. The two findings that will complement the overall picture emerging regarding the effect of the experimental school on learning are presented here.

In Figure 11 the distribution of mathematics achievement in the early childhood unit is shown compared with a control group (same age, same socioeconomic status, regular school).

image

Figure 11. Distribution of mathematics scores in the early childhood section.

Download figure to PowerPoint

In Figure 12 the distribution of literacy achievements (an aggregate of four different measures) is displayed. It is evident that already, at the end of the first period in the experimental school, the students score higher than in the control group in both mathematics and literacy; once again the results suggest that the low-achieving group benefits the most from the experimental learning environment.

image

Figure 12. Distribution of literacy grades in the early childhood section.

Download figure to PowerPoint

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

The concept of “experimental school” is more than a 100 years old: the Dewey Laboratory School in Chicago (1902), Montessori (1964)'s “Casa Bambini” in Rome, and “Summerhill” in the United Kingdom (Neill, 1960) are perhaps the most famous examples.

Dewey provided the rationale, “It's like the science lab in the university,” and Montessori spoke about “scientific pedagogy.” However, experimental schools remain a rarity. According to Lagemann (2000), the educational research community preferred Thorndike's model for scientific, experimental design. We may also suggest that the political administration opted for the trial and error reforms strategy, even though it never really worked (Tyak & Cuban, 1995).

The Cramim Experimental School is the result of an effort to bring back scientific rationality based on the research and development approach to change and innovation (Chen, 2006; Fischer, 2009; Hinton & Fischer, 2008).

The creation of the Cramim Experimental School was based on the following:

  • 1
    an innovative theoretical framework;
  • 2
    design and implementation of a true operational school;
  • 3
    action research based on cooperation between educators and researchers;
  • 4
    a longitudinal, multifaced, continuous research program; and
  • 5
    focus on creating a learning organization.

It was clear from the beginning that a school is a highly dynamic, complex system according to Simon's (2001) definition: a multivariable, multi-interactive system. It is therefore unrealistic to expect one to decipher relationships between individual educational variables in the spirit of Thorndike's scientific psychology. In any case, this debate is not the focus of this work at Cramim. It only suggests that the system approach (Chen & Stroup, 1993) would explain some of the constraints of this type of work.

This study asks an overarching question: “Do the framework and practices implemented in the experimental school yield more effective learning?” The answer is clearly positive. The evidence is provided by a series of independent studies carried out by different agencies at different stages of the experiment. The outcomes of the studies that focused on learning were explored in the following projects:

  • 1
    The National Report Card for Israel (MEITZAV) (2003, 2005).
  • 2
    Analysis of the Cramim consortium schools' achievements (2004).
  • 3
    A TIMSS-based mathematics and science achievements study (2001).
  • 4
    Analysis of the achievements of Cramim graduates in junior high school (2004).
  • 5
    Analysis of literacy and mathematics achievements in the early childhood unit (2006).

In all four major subjects (mathematics, science, English, and Hebrew), average scores were significantly higher than the national average as well as those of the control (regular) group. Along the same vein, mastery of learning skills also benefited significantly from the experimental school learning environment. Computer literacy skills were particularly enhanced.

While it is clear that the Cramim Experimental School learning environment enhanced learning and understanding in general, we do not have direct evidence as to what exactly is responsible for this enhancement. The complexity of the learning environment does not permit a clear-cut conclusion about particular causes.

Is it the flexibility in time and teacher allocation (differential input), or is it the dense computer support? Is it the school climate or is it teacher quality? While these questions remain open, we can examine the distribution of achievements and motivation across abilities in the school population (study of graduates and study of early childhood). The results show unequivocally that the effects of the experimental learning environment were higher for students at the lower end of achievement. We interpret these findings to mean that the experimental school caters much more to the diversity of its students, partly through differential inputs and indirectly by enhancing the motivation for learning in students who lack it.

At this point we would like to stress that, despite the fact that the experimental school provides ample evidence of being able to improve learning efficiency and opportunities, it nonetheless operates outside the current culture of school education. None of the policy makers was interested in either the evidence or in the innovative experiment itself. In our experience, “evidence-based policy” remained a slogan that was not honored, with policy makers maintaining contemporary strategies of irrational, trial-and-error, reformist policies and practices.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References

The case study of the Cramim Experimental School shows that Dewey's and Montessori's notion of scientific, experimental schooling is viable and productive. In fact, theory, practice, and action research came together to yield a significant evidence-based direction for both policy makers and practitioners. We have learned and demonstrated that research and development are an effective strategy for educational change. However, the experimental (research) school continues to work outside the contemporary culture of the educational establishment. It will require a major cultural transformation to bring such schools into the mainstream of educational policy making and change strategies.

A successful experimental school (research school) requires

  • an innovative conceptual framework;
  • formation of a learning organization; and
  • cooperation between practitioners, researchers, and those controlling educational resources.

However, to become a significant change agent, experimental or research schools must be a part of a system's change strategies at the policy and governmental level. This has yet to be realized.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL (RESEARCH SCHOOL)—FROM THE THEORETICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
  4. RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
  5. STAGE 1: FROM A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK INTO AN INNOVATIVE SCHOOL DESIGN
  6. STAGE 2: IMPLEMENTATION—CRAMIM SCHOOL IN ACTION
  7. MAJOR RESULTS
  8. DISCUSSION
  9. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
  10. References
  • Argyris, C., & Shon, D. A. (1996). Organizational learning II. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Barzilai, D. (2006). Literacy and math achievements in the early childhood unit of Cramim. MA Thesis, Tel-Aviv University, Israel.
  • Ben-Ami, Y. (2003). The role of e-mail in creating a learning community in an experimental school. MA Thesis, Tel-Aviv University , Israel.
  • Cacioppe, J. T., Berntson, G. G., Taylor, S. E., & Schacter, D. L. (2002). Foundations in social neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Chen, D. (1992). An epistemic analysis of interaction between knowledge, education and technology. In E.Barret (Ed.), Sociomedia (pp. 161172). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Chen, D. (2004). Analysis of the national report card: Innovative schools in Rishon LeZion. Tel-Aviv University, Israel.
  • Chen, D. (2006). Experimental school, the workshop for educational innovation. Ramot, Israel.
  • Chen, D., & Stroup, W. (1993). General system theory: Toward a conceptual framework for science and technology education for all. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2, 447459.
  • Chen, D., Tubin, D., & Ben-Ami, Y. (2002). Cramim School—evaluation & research report 96-02, Tel-Aviv University.
  • Churchland, P. (2002). Brain-wise: Studies in neurophilosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • De Solla Price, D. J. (1961). Little science, big science. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.
  • Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Elmore, R. F. (2005). School reform from the inside out. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  • Fischer, K. W. (2009). Mind, brain, and education: Building a scientific groundwork for learning and teaching. Mind, Brain, and Education, 3, 215.
  • Hartlage, L. C., & Telzrow, C. F. (1985). The neuropsychology of individual differences: A developmental perspective. New York: Plenum Press.
  • Hinton, C., & Fischer, K. W. (2008). Research schools: Grounding research in educational practice. Mind, Brain, and Education, 2, 157160.
  • Kozma, R. B. (Ed.). (2003). Technology innovation and educational change. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
  • Lagemann, E. C. (2000). An elusive science. The troubling history of educational research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Levontin, R. (1995). Human diversity. New York: Scientific American Library.
  • Martin, M. O. (2004). TIMSS 2003 international science, mathematics reports. Boston: IEA.
  • McLuhan, M., & Powers, B. (1989). The global village. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ministry of Education (2003, 2005). National report card (MEITSAV). The Israel Ministry of Education.
  • Minsky, M. (1985). The society of mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Miodusar, D., Nachmias, R., Forkush, A., & Tubin, D. (2001). An ICT rich elementary school of the future. Site M2 Case Study. Jenusalem, Israel: The Science Center, Tel-Aviv University.
  • Montessori, M. (1964). The Montessori method. New York: Shocken Books.
  • Morrison, P., & Morrison, P. (1977). Powers of ten. New York: Scientific American Library.
  • Neill, A. S. (1960). Summerhill School—A new view of childhood. New York: St. Martin Griffin.
  • OECD. (2007). PISA 2006: Science competencies for tomorrow's world. Vol. 1: Analysis. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • Ong, W. J. (1988). Orality and literacy. New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.
  • Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (1969). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.
  • Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate. New York: Viking Penguin Press.
  • Plomin, R., Defries, J. C., McLearn, G. E., & Rutter, M. (1997). Behavioral genetics. New York: W.H. Freeman.
  • Senge, P. (2000). Schools that learn. New York: Doubleday.
  • Shannon, C., & Weaver, W. (1963). The mathematical theory of information. Champagne, IL: University of Illinois Press.
  • Simon, H. (2001). The science of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • The Jossey Bass Reader (2001). School reform. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Tubin, D., Likriz, R., & Chen, D. (2004). Educational achievements of graduates of an experimental school. Educational Research, 46(2), 151162.
  • Tyak, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering about utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Wiles, J. (2005). Curriculum essentials. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • World Bank. (2000). Entering the 21st century. Washington, DC: Author.