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.