No Child Left Behind is forcing education researchers to get serious about determining what works, writes Karin Chenoweth in Education Week. The “dirty little secret of education” is that we don’t know.
Here’s an example: For children whose first language is not English, what is the best way to ensure that they learn not only English, but all the math, history, and science that they should learn? Is it best to teach math, history, and science in their home language while teaching English separately? Or is it to intensively teach English, leaving aside the other subjects until English is mastered? Does it make a difference if the child comes to this country when he is 2 years old or when he is age 12? Does it matter whether the child’s first language has a lot of overlap with English, like German or Spanish, or if it is completely unrelated, like Turkish or Chinese? Does it help or hurt to continue to use the home language outside of school?
For a nation of immigrants in the middle of a huge wave of immigration, it would seem important to know the answers to those questions. Unfortunately, we have no idea.
Individual educators may have implemented successful practices in their schools, but without linking those practices to research demonstrating that what they do could be successful with other kids, all we have are individual experiences, not standard practice. This leaves us with philosophies. We have a bilingual philosophy and an English- first philosophy, complete with testimonials about what worked for whose grandparents, but these really are politicalóbordering on the religiousó arguments, rather than scientific ones.
G. Reid Lyon, the chief of the child- development and -behavior branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the director of the institute’s reading-research program, has commissioned a major study on what methods of English-language instruction work best for which kids, but we won’t have the results for some time.
No Child Left Behind is creating a revolution in education research, Chenoweth writes. About time. The What Works Clearinghouse is supposed to provide guidance on a variety of education questions.
Update: Reform K12 says we do so know what works. We just don’t do it.