Behind the Headline: There Is No FDA For Education. Maybe There Should Be



By 03/09/2016

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On Top of the News
There Is No FDA For Education. Maybe There Should Be
NPR | 3/7/2016

Behind the Headline
Connecting to Practice
Education Next | Spring 2016

ednext-march16-kanenprNPR’s Eric Westervelt talks with Harvard education researcher Tom Kane about how and why American education research has mostly languished in an echo chamber for much of the last half century.

The story is based on an article Kane wrote for Education Next looking at why so little progress has been made toward closing the achievement gap in the 50 years since James Coleman published his “Equality of Educational Opportunity” study.

Kane laments

We have spent the last 50 years essentially recapitulating the same descriptive work that Coleman and his colleagues did, and not finding solutions and spreading information about solutions.

The point of education research is to identify effective interventions for closing the achievement gaps that Coleman observed and ensuring that that information is usable.

And by that metric — by our ability to build consensus around a set of interventions that work for closing the achievement gap — I would have to say that the last 50 years have been a near complete failure.

Kane contrasts the world of education research to the world of medical research, where mechanisms exist to translate research findings into action.

The FDA offers the expertise of a central panel of folks that are reviewing the research and looking for the evidence, side effects, efficacy. They make decisions about which drugs we’re all, you know, going to be exposed to. We have no such thing in education.

In medicine, often you’ll have panels recommending clear standards of care. We have no such thing in education.

We have an approach to funding education research that seems geared toward building a central knowledge base or building the expertise among a small group of experts, but there’s just no way to translate that into decisions out in the field. They’re completely separate worlds.

Kane’s article, “Connecting to Practice: How we can put education research to work,” appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Education Next.

—Education Next




Comment on this article
  • David Newman says:

    There is good work in educational psychology research, measuring different aspects of learning processes. But that is nothing to do with achievement gaps as measured by tests. It is about how to set up habitats for knowledge generation, refinement and sharing: emergent knowledge.

    Also, measuring drug effectiveness is only the last stage of a lot of previous research studying how systems in our cells, our bodies, and our microbiome work. Education is a long way from getting that depth of understanding.

    But yes, it is possible to do controlled trials of interventions in education, along the lines of agricultural science, with Latin Square designs.

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