Research in Education…failing grade

I read an article in Newsweek (May 10, 2010) called “Second-Class Science:  Education research gets an F.”  by Sharon Begley.  (Thanks, Mom!)  Mom thought it was a commentary on teachers today, but I didn’t.  I actually agreed with the author.  Part of the problem with today’s education is that “research-based” doesn’t mean anything.  These are the programs that we’re required to use, though! 

Educational research seems to center so much on anecdotal evidence.  Qualitative evidence really does have a purpose, but you’ve got to keep in mind that it IS subjective.  Begley points out that all these programs we’re using in the schools because research PROOVES they work (i.e. Saxon Math, Plato, Ready Set Leap!, Odyssey Math, Singapore Math) do not meet standards for scientific rigor, and are sometimes so sloppy that they really can’t prove anything.

I know that education is not an exact science.  Kids are soooo different, and it’s so difficult to single out what is effective, and what isn’t.  But if you’re looking at an expensive program, wouldn’t you be able to compare, say 100 classrooms that use it with 100 classrooms that don’t?  That’s called a control group, and most of the studies she mentions didn’t use one. 

Now I don’t have the other side of the coin.  I haven’t researched this myself.  Maybe these were only a handful of studies, and the rest have done their homework.  But from what I see in the classroom, this makes sense.  The math program I use is all but useless.  My team plans math together week by week just to ensure that we are really teaching, because if we use that text only, ALL of our students would fail.  The reading text is better, but the new ones I just evaluated don’t look any better than the ones that were out years ago.  What do they spend so much money on?

I’ve done my share of action research, and it’s valuable stuff.  I’ll continue to use it, too.  However, not only do the program publishers need to get busy and prove their programs, but school districts need to expect and demand this proof.

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