Deans for Impact publishes report on science of learning

Dean Gallagher among deans calling for adoption of “signature body of knowledge” in teacher preparation programs

By Kenneth Ross


Dean Gallagher

Dean Gallagher

Deans for Impact (DFI) has released The Science of Learninga comprehensive synthesis of the scientific principles that inform how students learn. The landmark document is one of the most inclusive summaries of the fundamentals of learning compiled to date.

DFI is a national nonprofit organization representing leaders who are committed to transforming educator preparation and elevating the teaching profession. USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher is among the group’s 24 member deans. The organization is headquartered in Austin.

DFI’s goal was to create a conceptually rigorous document that will serve as practical, real world tool for teacher educators. The questions it addresses are fundamental and designed to define the key components of the learning process.

“The problem isn’t that schools and teachers don’t ask the right questions,” notes Dean Karen Gallagher. “They do. The problem is that as a profession we haven’t agreed on consistent answers.”

Deans for Impact originated in 2013 with informal discussions among a group of education leaders who were determined to make a tangible difference in the quality of classroom education. The formal launch came in January of this year.

“We’re confident that this document will help encourage the creation of a signature body of knowledge that will support consistent instructional practice.”

—Dean Karen Symms Gallagher

“It was clear early on that Karen was going to be one of our bolder members,” says Ben Riley, DFI’s executive director. “She believes in driving hard to improve education. She’s one of our strongest voices for constructive change that will make a difference in the classroom.”

Deans For Impact

DFI collaborated with two educators to create the Science of Learning document: Dan Willingham, a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia, and Paul Bruno, a middle school teacher who is now a PhD candidate at USC Rossier.

“We were determined to make the report as useful as possible to teacher educators,” Bruno explains. “We want them to have a common body of scientific knowledge that has direct implications for their instructional choices in the classroom.” Bruno adds that the document draws from a variety of learning theories and reflects the scientific consensus around basic cognitive principles.

The Science of Learning explores six questions:

How do students understand new ideas?
How do they learn and retain new information?
How do they solve problems?
How does learning transfer to new situations?
What motivates students to learn?
What are some common misconceptions about how students think and learn?

DFI will advocate that every teacher-candidate grapple with these questions, be able to answer them and have a clear understanding of how those answers can be applied effectively in the classroom.

Dean Gallagher is enthusiastic about the Science of Learning and the contributions it will make. “We’re confident that this document will help encourage the creation of a signature body of knowledge that will support consistent instructional practice. That consistency will help build teacher confidence and success. It will build confidence in teachers on the part of school districts and policymakers. And it will elevate the teaching profession to its rightful place among society’s most respected callings.”


Check out this Q&A with Dean Karen Symms Gallagher on why she joined Deans for Impact.