Schneider's From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse, Chapter 1: Bloom's Taxonomy

I hold some grudges when it comes to the topic of research to practice in education. A few highlights: A principal who (probably rightly) thought I was struggling to engage my students told me to watch Barbara Streisand's performance as a college professor in The Mirror Has Two Faces and "do what she does, because her students love her." The question, "Which academic journal did she read that in?" sarcastically crossed my mind, and no, I never watched the movie. At a state conference presentation about RtI, a presenter told us to only use research-based intervention strategies. When a teacher at my table asked, "How do we know if a strategy is research-based?" the presenter responded, "I figure if it's something you find in writing, and didn't just make up by yourself, then it's research-based."

My curiosity for research eventually landed me in graduate school and I now spend more time than ever thinking about the intersections of research and practice. When I saw Jack Schneider (@Edu_Historian) had a new book called From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education, I ordered it right away. Michael Pershan (@mperhsan) also picked up a copy and we're reading it together, taking turns reviewing and replying chapter by chapter. You'll probably want to read Michael's thoughts on the introduction and first chapter, as my post is partly a review of Schneider and partly a reply to Michael.

It would be rather pedestrian to write a book showing how education research doesn't make it into the world of K-12 education. If you randomly selected an article from an education research journal, and randomly selected a classroom, you'd be hard-pressed to find any impact of that article in that classroom. Repeat that process 5-10 times and you've got yourself a (lousy) book. Schneider, on the other hand, turns this on its head: he identifies four ideas from education research that have made their way into widespread practice. These four ideas have somehow beat the odds — odds determined not by a lack of teacher knowledge or interest in research, but, Schneider claims, the "fundamental separation of the capacities and influence needed to move research into practice" (p. 4).

The first of Schneider's four ideas to bridge the research-practice gap is Bloom's Taxonomy. I remember working with Bloom's Taxonomy as a student, perhaps as early as middle school. I certainly saw it in some of my teacher education courses, usually when we were learning to write educational objectives. Schneider, an education historian, reveals that the taxonomy wasn't never built for use in K-12. Instead, it was a tool for categorizing learning objectives for undergraduate courses and making comparisons across institutions. This was in the late 1940s, when behaviorist theories of learning said a learning objective should describe observable changes in student behavior.

Michael's review highlights two of Schneider's arguments for why Bloom's Taxonomy became well-established in K-12. First, teachers saw in the taxonomy support for things they were already doing, and second, the taxonomy "meant many different things to many different educators." Michael takes the bold step of wrapping these together as "Schneider's Dilemma," asking if there's much hope for changing practice if the only research teachers adopt is research that tells them to keep doing what they're doing.

I'm not quite ready to subscribe to the Schneider's Dilemma theory, and I'm not sure Schneider would be, either. This is just the first of Schneider's four cases, after all, so I'll withhold judgement for now. I see hints of ideas here that I've seen elsewhere, in particular Michael Apple's (1992) description of the 1989 NCTM Standards as a "slogan system," where statements or claims are general enough to get wide support without being specific enough to garner disagreement. Schneider offers many complimentary reasons why Bloom's Taxonomy became popular, including such things as the number and prominence of Bloom's grad students who could carry the taxonomy far and wide, and (more importantly) what Schneider calls transportability, a characteristic of an idea that makes it easy to convey to teachers, relevant across diverse contexts, and applicable on demand. Wrapping many of these reasons together, Schneider writes:
In short, the taxonomy was a shape-shifter. It seemed to address major questions about the process of schooling without proposing a major theory to be refuted. As a consequence, it was philosophically compatible among different—and sometimes ideologically opposed—groups, some of whom worked as teachers and many of whom worked in other positions. Yet despite all this inherent complexity, the taxonomy was, at its core, quite simple. Made up of six hierarchical categories, beginning with knowledge and ending with evaluation, it could be easily described, represented, and transported. (p. 35)
Michael is right to ask if Bloom's Taxonomy has done us much good for all its widespread popularity, but that's not really the question Schneider set out to answer. I'm okay with that: Asking how Bloom's Taxonomy gets into practice is different than asking if it's been used effectively, and I'm more interested in the first question than the second. Schneider says, "Without question, the taxonomy has had an uneven life in practice" (p. 49) and I have no doubt he's right. I'd like to believe that Bloom's Taxonomy has done more good than harm, even if it's shallowly used and applied in ways Bloom never imagined.


Apple, M. W. (1992). Do the standards go far enough? Power, policy, and practice in mathematics education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 23(5), 412–431. doi:10.2307/749562