Feds politicize school research

Feds And Research Shouldn’t Mix, writes researcher Jay P. Greene.

Federal research tends to support federally favored policies. Even when it’s farmed out to independent evaluators, there’s pressure not to alienate those who will be awarding the the next contract.

The safe thing to conclude in those circumstances is that the evidence is unclear about the effectiveness of a policy but future research is needed, which, not surprisingly, is what many federally funded evaluations find.

Greene served on a What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) panel that was supposed to identify what was known from the research literature on how to turn around failing schools.

As we quickly discovered, there was virtually nothing known from rigorous research on how to successfully turn around failing schools.  I suggested that we should simply report that as our finding — nothing is known.  But we were told that the Department of Education wouldn’t like that  and we had to say something about how to turn around schools.  I asked on what basis we would draw those conclusions and was told that we should rely on our “professional judgment” informed by personal experience and non-rigorous research.  So, we dutifully produced a report that was much more of a political document than a scientific one.  We didn’t know anything from science about how to turn around schools, but we crafted a political answer to satisfy political needs.

Federally funded research also is way too expensive, Greene writes. And a lot of it is awful.

In particular, I am thinking of the work of the federally funded regional research labs.  For every useful study or review they release, there must be hundreds of drek.  The regional labs are so bad that the Department of Education has been trying to eliminate them from their budget for years.  But members of Congress want the pork, so they keep the regional labs alive.

The feds can provide data on student performance to researchers who’d be stymied by privacy laws, Greene writes. Researchers can take it from there.

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  1. Inigo Montoya says:

    Irony is dead.

    Jay P. Greene argues that government-sponsored education research should be suspect because the researchers tend to report findings that support the views of their sponsors.

    Prof. Greene, can you direct me to the non-sponsored education research? You know, the stuff people do for free? Like, maybe, the stuff you’ve done without relying on your (sponsored) graduate training and your (sponsored) work with other (sponsored) researchers?

  2. Princess Bride Fan,

    Irony may be dead but so is good reading comprehension.

    My argument is not at all like you describe it. I do not think that research is suspect because it supports the views of sponsors. I’m simply saying that federally funded research is no more pure than any other research — and may be worse because of direct political intervention.

    I am also not advocating for “non-sponsored education research,” which as you rightly point out does not exist. Instead I am calling for a free market of research ideas without the federal government privileging certain studies or research summaries.

    Besides snark I have no idea what you favor.

  3. Student of History says:

    What about the federally funded math and science partnerships where the feds fund the university CLTs doing the research, the inquiry oriented textbooks being advocated, and the nice luxury hotel getaways for administrators and teachers who support their adoption?

    They’ve had to change the very nature of what “research” means to justify some of these programs. Basically the MSP definition seems to be theories proposed or discussed by degree holders.

    And the program is about to get a raise in the FY2011 budget from $181 million to $300 million.

    That’s a lot of disseminating and implementing of fuzzy math and science programs.


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