I do a fair amount of speaking on the importance of evidence-based reform in education, and I hear a disturbing objection to this idea: insisting on evidence for educational programs will slow down the process of innovation. At one level, this is an astonishing argument. If we don't know if innovations work, why should we care if they are not widely used? Actually, at least 99% of the textbooks, software, and professional development approaches adopted by schools today have never been evaluated successfully in comparison to control groups, so complaining about evidence-based reform is a bit premature. However, there is ...


Every political science student knows the old adage that the focus of government is "Who gets what?" That is, government takes in taxes and then distributes benefits, and contending groups pressure government to increase the proportion of those benefits delivered to their constituents. The "who gets what" dynamic exists as much in education as anywhere else, and perhaps even more, as education (like the military) is overwhelmingly a government-funded operation. Whenever the annual budget numbers come out for the U.S. Department of Education, advocacy groups scan every figure looking for gains or losses in their favored line items. There ...


NOTE: This is a guest post by Steve Fleischman, deputy executive officer at Education Northwest, a nonprofit headquartered in Portland, Ore., that conducts research, evaluation, technical assistance, training, and strategic communications activities to promote evidence-informed education policy and practice. In the movie Sleepers, Woody Allen awakens in the year 2173 to find out that health food is bad for you and that deep fat, steak, cream pies, and hot fudge are all healthy. A character in the movie notes that Allen's beliefs are "precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true." The scene ends with a scientist ...


Earlier this week, John Wilson put the spotlight on a national embarrassment in his Education Week blog post entitled Flunking 3rd Graders Is Not An Intervention. His central point is worth repeating here: "Flunking 3rd graders is costly to the taxpayers and devastating to the students. Do the math. It costs $10,000 to educate a student every year or $20,000 annually for a special needs student. Is it better to fail a student and create an extra year of that cost or to create a "bridge" program for students who have not mastered reading by the end of ...


I was at a meeting in London recently, and got into a friendly argument with a colleague about strategies for scaling up proven programs. I was arguing that teachers should have an opportunity to collectively learn about a variety of proven programs appropriate to their school and then vote to adopt one or more of them, or none at all. This way, I argued, teachers would feel committed to whatever they had chosen and implement it with spirit and care. My colleague was appalled. She thought my way was too slow and would abandon kids who happened to be in ...


When I was a kid, I loved my textbooks. I loved their heft, their musty smell, and the long list of names of previous users in the back. I loved the confident, definitive prose that led into new worlds of thought and experience. When I grew up, I even wrote some textbooks myself. So it is with mixed emotions that I'm witnessing the demise of the textbook as we know it. Apple recently announced that it will be partnering with major publishers to create online textbooks, and the Obama Administration set the goal of having e-textbooks in the hands of ...


In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright changed the world in the most American of ways, by tinkering in their bicycle shop and then testing their flying machine in the dunes of Kitty Hawk. The basic design principles they followed were the same as those being followed by optimistic airplane designers all over the world. Others used similar airframes, engines, and controls. The Wright brothers did make numerous innovations, but to an observer, there was little that differentiated their model from many others, with one exception: their airplane actually flew. Now space forward 109 years, and consider school reform. In turning ...


In the 1980s, Madeline Hunter was extremely popular for her speeches and writing focused on making basic principles of educational psychology practical for teachers. I saw her speak once in a huge auditorium packed to the rafters with enthusiastic teachers. At the end, the teachers were streaming out excitedly discussing the speech. On every side, the comment I heard was, "This confirms everything I've always believed!" Everyone likes to have their beliefs confirmed by articulate speakers, but I wondered at the time whether the teachers had wasted their time. How could confirmation of what they've always believed change their teaching ...


In recent posts I've argued that while we can and should learn a great deal from international comparisons of educational practices and outcomes, we should not simply adopt the practices of other countries, but should put them (and home-grown solutions) to the test in our country. Last week, as part of Education Week's Quality Counts, there was an article by Pasi Sahlberg, of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. Finland, of course, has become the poster child for those who point abroad for inspiration, because of its top rankings on international tests, such as PISA and TIMSS. Sahlberg explains ...


In a November 10 Sputnik I wrote some cautionary thoughts about what we can and cannot learn from international comparisons to improve educational policies. My old friend Marc Tucker, in his December 20 blog called Top Performers, took me to task, saying that by suggesting we try out ideas from abroad in our own schools before adopting them wholesale, I was "looking for my keys where the light was better" rather than where they might actually be. In my blog I was completely agreeing with Marc that we can learn a lot from other countries. I work part-time in England ...


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