Book blasts research base for Obama reform plan
A new book sharply criticizes the research base for the education reform blueprint that President Obama released earlier this year, saying that it is "superficial and inadequate" and does not support the document's conclusions on two major issues.
The book, titled "The Obama Education Blueprint: Researchers Examine the Evidence” and written by a handful of leading education researchers, looks at the six research summaries that were presented by the administration last spring to support its main proposals that were put forth in Obama’s Blueprint for Reform.
The blueprint is Obama’s vision for changing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known in its current form as No Child Left Behind. It is not clear when Congress will take up the reauthorization of the law.
“The research summary provides rhetoric and exhortation, not research,” the book says.
The administration’s research summaries are meant to be a foundation for reform proposals in these areas:
* Fostering innovation and excellence.
The new book, published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder's School of Education, provides analysis topic by topic. The authors of each section questioned the quality of the research cited by the administration.
For example, in the first chapter, written by Diane Ravitch of New York University and William J. Mathis of the University of Colorado at Boulder, 62 research references in the administration’s research summary on “College- and Career-Ready Students” are examined. Of the 62:
* Twenty-three are from think tanks, most with explicit policy agendas.
For example, to support the claim of lost earnings for less-educated Americans, one of the administration’s research summary cites a think tank that advocates for high school reform.
* Thirteen are from governmental sources, many of which do not support the policy interpretations attached to them.
For example, one of the research summaries documents the varying state academic standards but does not take the next step to explain how the establishment of common standards across states -- which the blueprint supports -- will result in improved academic performance.
Today, Massachusetts has high standards and high student performance on standardized tests; California has high standards but does not have high student performance on standardized tests.
* Fewer than 15 percent of the references appear to be from independent, peer-reviewed research, the book says.
Though the blueprint promotes the use of competitive grants as a way to drive reform, the book says that the administration’s research foundation offers no rationale for such an approach.
There is, also, an overwhelming reliance, with little or no research justification, on standardized test scores as a measure of student learning and school success, it says.
In Chapter Five, a review of the research summary on “Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students,” the authors cite numerous examples of policies that have broad appeal but a weak research base.
For example, it says, “Family involvement is crucial to education, but the evidence for a causal link between student achievement and the type of parent involvement discussed is ambiguous and suspect. The proposals for safe schools boil down to increased local flexibility and increased gathering of survey data, neither of which can be expected to improve outcomes.”
Along with Ravitch and Mathis, book authors include W. Steven Barnett of Rutgers University; Gene V. Glass of Arizona State University; Paul Shaker of Simon Fraser University, and Kevin G. Welner of the University of Colorado, who, with Mathis, edited the book.
Welner said the authors hope the book will inform the reform discussion and “help ground it in evidence.”
The trick now will be to get the education policy folks in the Obama administration to feel the same imperative.
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| October 4, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Research, School turnarounds/reform | Tags: diane ravitch, education research, esea, no child left behind, obama blueprint, obama schools, reform blueprint, research, research summary, school reform, welner
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