A Little Randomness on Randomized Trials…And, More Bungling by the ED Dep’t Bushies?

A very important must-read article in the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the state of play in the debate about education research. It’s a longish treatment of an issue that a lot of people are rightly buzzing about.

Read the whole thing but serious Eduwonketeers should not miss:

A) Russ Whitehurst, head of the Department of Education’s research institute, citing the unfavorable after-school study as an example of how rigorous research can influence policy. Bad example Russ! The study was sound, but the Bush Administration using it to justify a 40 percent cut in the after-school program was a caricature of the claims by critics of more rigorous research…

B) The claim by University of Pennsylvania’s Robert F. Boruch that fewer than 10 percent of American Educational Research Association members are “knowledgeable about randomized trials”. Hmmm…fewer than 10 percent? Perhaps it falls to Eduwonk to defend the colleges of education here, less than 10 percent…that seems unbelievable…

C) The subtle attack on Rick Hess by Paul S. Shaker.* Nice one Paul! But you should have stopped there, the vaguely conspiratorial stuff about the dark forces behind all this is not only silly but very late 1990s…

D) The argument by purveyors of single case studies and other small N qualitative research techniques that randomized trials might not have external validity…some might not, but c’mon…

E) The claim that people in colleges of education have been “clubbed into acquiescence” by proponents of more randomized research. Eduwonk was at AERA this year, the volume of complaining about and resistance to this issue was Cicada-like…acquiescence? No.

F) Tim Hacsi of Harvard deliberately furthering the myth and spin that No Child Left Behind is overwhelmingly based on the experience of Texas…

Yes, everyone got their licks in here! And that — aside from the vital importance of the issue — is why it is important, it’s a roadmap for idle chit chat in the hallway of your next conference or meeting!

*If you don’t get it, buy, borrow, or steal this book.

Update! A concerned citizen/well-connected reader requesting anonymity emails with more! Is the What Works Clearinghouse touted by the Administration in the Chronicle article another mismanaged Bush Administration education initiative? You decide:

The Department of Education has spent more than $15 million on the What Works Clearinghouse so far from 2002-2004 ($3 million FY02, $5 million FY03, $7 million FY04) and is proposing to spend an additional $7 million again in FY2005. They are also supplementing this funding through the national technology funding account. But, to date taxpayers and the customers of the clearinghouse have nothing to show for it. The website hasn’t been updated with new material since July, 2003. The last e-mail update from the Clearinghouse was February 5, 2004 to announce that they were adding their first special topic, “Character Education Interventions: Benefits for Character Traits, Behavioral, and Academic Outcomes.” [Eduwonk note, that sounds in character, meaning very politically driven!] When I e-mailed a question to the clearinghouse it took one full month to get an an e-mail reply.

From what I have heard, when they finally do roll out their initial 5 topics, the number of entries will be ridiculously narrow. The contractors are also behind schedule and probably have missed a majority of their due dates in the contract ED prepared. Its probably more a product of unrealistic timelines prepared by ED, but give me a break. The evaluators registry which was supposed to be on-line in 2003 is not slated to go on-line until later this year. They blame the delay on OMB clearance.

And I won’t even get into the fact that Paige is touting that the clearinghouse will evaluate and grade commercial products and curriculum which is against the law. Can’t wait for the lawsuits.

One Reply to “A Little Randomness on Randomized Trials…And, More Bungling by the ED Dep’t Bushies?”

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