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Ed Knows Policy

EKP -- a local (Washington, DC) and national blog about education policy, politics, and research.

Who is Ed Researcher?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"What Works?" What gives?

Poor WWC, poor AIR, poor IES. They are all caught up in a large poorly conceived, poorly executed plan to do something noble. Ed Week writes it up here ($), describing the new website's new look. They just want to serve as the scientists who scan the research base and boil down the evidence for busy practitioners who are ill trained for the task.

All fine and good, but they didn't think through some things that well:

  • Research hardly ever reaches consensus, especially in education; therefore, "what works?" is a nonsensical question. It should be the "What Are Researchers Tending to Conclude Clearinghouse (WART-CC)"

  • There's no one-size-fits-all solution to education problems; so evidence on the effectiveness of interventions in School District A have to be mulled carefully, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, before District B decides whether to adopt or adapt it.

  • Anybody can interpret the findings of a randomized experiment, but judging whether a quasi-experimental study is any good or not is what takes sophisticated judgment, and it has to be subjective. That's why it's better to have our current system where people and institutions that live off their reputations commit to these judgments and stand by them, with the rest of us deciding whose reputation merits paying attention. It's the same private sector solution that gives us movie and restaurant reviews. It should have been journalists hiring academics, not the government hiring contractors.


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