Schools spent nearly $2 billion in 2006 to buy education software of dubious quality, writes Todd Oppenheimer in the spring issue of Education Next. Software companies claim their products have been proven effective, but their research is shoddy and misleading.
The government’s What Works Clearinghouse has rejected the validity of 75 percent of studies backing various instructional software programs, earning the nickname of â€œthe Nothing Works Clearinghouse.â€
The nickname carries an important double meaning. To some, itâ€™s another example of governmental blockheadedness â€” specifically, that understanding how teaching and learning work in the real world is beyond the skill of a federal agency. To others, including many leaders in the research community, the message is actually more harsh. It is that most new classroom gimmicks donâ€™t add much of value, and studies packaged to suggest otherwise are to be treated with great suspicion. In fairness, suspicious research sometimes contains perfectly innocent flaws. Thatâ€™s because truly scientific research is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and costly â€” and thus very rare â€” which is precisely why the WWC has found so few studies to be satisfactory.
The unproven software might be effective. But there’s a great risk of wasting billions of dollars.