Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So Much For The Research

The Obama administration likes to make believe its education reform program - tests in every subject at every grade level, teacher pay and evaluations tied to those tests, and the closing of schools and the firing of teachers based upon those test scores - is a proven, research-based strategy to "turnaround" the public education system.

But a new book written by the National Education Policy Center, a university-based research organization in Boulder, Colo. that critiques the work of prominent think tanks, says it is not research-based at all:

The Obama administration's education plan lacks a solid research basis for its proposals, a new book says.

The Obama Education Blueprint: Researchers Examine the Evidence is the first major effort from the National Education Policy Center, a university-based research organization in Boulder, Colo., that critiques the work of prominent think tanks. ("Think-Tank Critics Plant a Stake in Policy World," this issue.)

In the book, scholars take a look at the six research summaries the administration released in May in support of its blueprint—a guiding document it sent to Congress in March to explain its vision of the next iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main federal law on K-12 education. ("Administration Unveils ESEA Reauthorization Blueprint," March 16, 2010.)

The researchers found "the overall quality of the summaries is far below what is required for a national policy discussion of critical issues."

"Each of the summaries was found to give overly simplified, biased, and too brief explanations of complex issues," co-editors William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, both University of Colorado at Boulder academicians, write in the book's introduction.

Mr.Welner, who is also the NEPC's director, said the book is aimed at informing the discussion about the administration's policies.

"It's not that I don't like a lot of the ideas and want to see them be successful," he said. "But when the government makes statements that something is supported by research and it isn't, that's an important message to get across."

Mr. Welner and the other authors say the U.S. Department of Education relied too heavily on the work of advocacy groups to bolster claims and showed a strong focus on the use of standardized-test scores without justifying their use as a valid measure of learning and school success.

The researchers also note a lack of research provided for two key pieces of the blueprint: the accountability system that is to replace the "adequate yearly progress" measure under the No Child Left Behind Act and the four models school districts are to use to turn around low-performing schools.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment on the book's critiques.

If you're watching Oprah, NBC's Education Summit, or Waiting for Superman or listening to the president and Mayor Bloomberg talk about education issues, you'd be under the impression that all the research is settled and if we just close 10,000 schools across the nation, turns lots more schools into for-profit privatized charters, get rid of tenure and seniority and add new standardized tests to every grade at every level at least twice a year, all the problems in public education will be solved.

That turns out to be as fact-based and rigorously researched as the Bush administration's "We'll Be Greeted As Liberators" prognostication about the Iraq war.

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