New Resource: Using Evidence to Improve Education
Posted by on March 25, 2005
USING EVIDENCE TO IMPROVE EDUCATION
Among the many buzzwords swarming around education reform, “evidence-based practice” has become one of the hottest. Spurred in part by No Child Left Behind — with its more than one hundred references to research and evidence — and, in part, by efforts by the business community and others to help infuse educational decisions with data, schools and school systems are quickly lining up to demonstrate how their curricular and spending decisions reflect evidence about what works and what’s needed. To a great extent, this trend is a positive one, writes Robert Rothman. Educators will admit that many decisions have been based more on history (the way schools have always worked) and on politics (the wishes of a favored constituency) than on evidence. And with budgets tight, administrators are eager to show that schools are producing results. Yet, like many concepts, “evidence-based practice” can mean many different things, and the way it is interpreted and applied can determine whether it represents a real change in the way schools operate or just another fad. The notion of evidence-based practice implied in No Child Left Behind is a limited one. The law is producing reams of data, but nearly all of it is standardized-test data that cannot sufficiently inform decisions about programs and practices. While it is useful to know whether certain groups of students are performing less well than others in mathematics, it is also important to know what the classrooms are teaching so that schools can know what to change. In addition, the law’s emphasis on knowing “what works” is based on a limited model of research that assumes that a program that works in one school will work in any school. The type of randomized trials the law holds up as the “gold standard” for education research, similar to the kind of studies used in medical research, say little about how to implement an innovation. The latest issue of Voices in Urban Education, from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, focuses on evidence-based practice. It provides four perspectives on the use of evidence to improve education at the district and state levels and offers provocative ideas about what counts as evidence and ways evidence can inform practice.
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