Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Research that doesn't tell us anything

In education you hear “I believe” way too many times. I mock these people who think that there is no evidence required – as long as you believe it works in education it must be so. It is as if education is a religion with a prescribed set of beliefs and those of us heretics on the outside must be derided for upsetting their belief system.

On the outside we say there must be evidence – student achievement is the coin of the realm and without it you are one of the barriers to education improvement.

Lately, however, I am questioning my belief in student achievement. I am beginning to wonder if anything actually does get you student achievement that is really superior to something else.

I base this on a series of disappointing study results. First you had the New Teacher Center study. It seemed to indicate that an intense mentoring program didn’t yield significant results. Then you had a recent study on the TAP teacher career ladder program. Not to mention many studies on charter schools, National Board Certification, Vouchers and TFA - - none of which is a home run for opponents or supporters.

It is really beginning to appear to me that if the “gold standard” of random assignment doesn’t really seem to answer any of the real questions then why are paying researchers millions of dollars to conduct the study? Shouldn’t one of these programs have shown some really significant gains? Or is it the incredibly wide variation in student and teacher performance so far gone that we can’t really see small differences in results? Maybe the earth really isn't flat!

It is above my head – but those who are smarter than I need to come up with a better judge of results that actually tells us something and doesn’t use up millions of dollars to give us a vague answer.