Friday, May 18, 2012

A Question About Educational Research

Writing in the New York Times "The Stone," Gary Gutting asks an important question:
But how reliable is even the best work on the effects of teaching?  How, for example, does it compare with the best work by biochemists on the effects of light on plant growth? Since humans are much more complex than plants and biochemists have far more refined techniques for studying plants, we may well expect the biochemical work to be far more reliable.  For making informed decisions about public policy, though, we need to have a more precise sense of how large the difference in reliability is. Is there any work on the effectiveness of teaching that is solidly enough established to support major policy decisions?
He answers in the negative, noting:
Without a strong track record of experiments leading to successful predictions, there is seldom a basis for taking social scientific results as definitive.  Jim Manzi, in his recent book, “Uncontrolled,” offers a careful and informed survey of the problems of research in the social sciences and concludes that “nonexperimental social science is not capable of making useful, reliable and nonobvious predictions for the effects of most proposed policy interventions.”
Gutting causes me to wonder how many educational reform policies have been based on unreliable research?

1 comment:

D.E. Bishop said...

All of them.