New NBES Leader Champions Experimental Design
It looks like there will be some continuity for the National Board for Education Sciences, which advises the Education Department's research agency, as it awaits new members' Senate confirmations.
Jon Baron, the current board vice chairman and one of the few NBES members who has been involved since the board's founding in 2004, will step in as chairman from current head Eric A. Hanushek, a Stanford University economist, whose term expires on Nov. 28. New member Bridget T. Long, an education and economics professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, will take over as vice chairman.
Baron is president of the Washington-based Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, which under his tenure worked with the federal Office of Management and Budget to develop the Program Assessment Rating Tool, which has been used to gauge the effectiveness of federal programs for budget purposes. He also serves on the National Academies' Committee on Capitalizing on Science, Technology, and Innovation, and is an honorary fellow of the Academy of Experimental Criminology. On the education sciences board, Baron has championed the use of experimental design in education studies.
"When practitioners, policymakers, educators think of a randomized controlled trial, they often think of a big expensive enterprise that will involve 100 different schools and measure a lot of different outcomes and will produce a 300-page report and cost a lot of money," he said at the board's last meeting. "Good randomized evaluations don't have to be that way. The biggest cost in the evaluations is tracking students over time, but in many cases now that can be done using administrative data like student test scores. That basically takes the biggest cost in these trials and makes it a nominal cost."
Baron advocates helping district leaders conduct their own small-scale research to answer their own policy questions. He pointed to a superintendent in Seminole County, Fla., who wanted to choose a remedial reading program for 9th graders. The superintendent took 1,500 of his incoming freshman who scored poorly on the state assessments in the previous year and randomly assigned them to one of the three programs, then looked at the students' test scores at teh end of that year and the following year. "The total cost of that evaluation was about $50,000," Baron said.