Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Truthiness in Education

This commentary from Education Week expresses the frustration of many in education who are asked to change practices and policy based on so called "research" when, in fact, the underlying methodological standards are suspect.

The authors expose think tank publications for what they ARE NOT - the vast majority are not original research.

"A large number are what might best be called “policy briefs.” Quality policy briefs, however, generally include a comprehensive consideration of previously published research and synthesize what is known in order to draw out policy implications. Accordingly, the usefulness of such briefs to guide sound policy is strongly related to the adequacy of their reviews of the literature. Sadly, the influential think tank reports we have been reading rarely provide either a comprehensive review of the literature or a defensible interpretation of the findings of whatever scant research is cited. They tend to opt instead for highly selective reviews of the literature and a necessarily skewed reading of the insights offered by that research."

Because the stakes for America’s children are so high, the two academic centers with which Education Week is associated—the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder—together launched the Think Tank Review Project to provide expert reviews of think tank reports.

"In 2006...13 think tank reports were reviewed. The results are disturbing. Only one, or perhaps two, could be considered to have even minimally passed expert muster. Moreover, the same flaws emerged repeatedly, over different reports reviewed by different scholars. For instance, empirical analyses have been shockingly shoddy, and the findings, conclusions, and recommendations ... have been unsupported by the analyses... [T]he ideological beliefs of the authors (and their think tanks) appear to have distorted the methods used, shaped the literature reviewed, and determined the results and recommendations of the reports."

For more information on the state of educational research in America and how we got here see An Elusive Science by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, the Charles Warren Professor of the History of American Education and former Harvard dean.

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