Taxpayers today are exposed to a stream of studies about public education that purport to be based on scientific research. Yet too often the reports issued by institutions with impressive sounding names turn out to be little more than junk science. At least that's the conclusion of a new book, Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policymakers, the Media, and the Public (Information Age Publishing, 2010). It argues that a large number of studies are policy briefs, rather than original research. This view has far-reaching implications in the debate over how to improve educational quality for all students. Taxpayers have ...


The New York Times published a front-page story about the delayed impact the best kindergarten teachers have on their students ("The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers") on the same day I wrote about the benefit in delaying evaluation of teachers until years after their students graduate ("Who's a Good Teacher"). Raj Chetty, who conducted the Project Star study reported in the Times, is an economist. As a result, he understandably placed heavy emphasis on the pecuniary benefits to students who were taught in kindergarten by an inspired teacher. He says that all else being equal, these students were making ...


When Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired 241 teachers in Washington D.C. on July 23, the news was heralded as evidence that true accountability was finally a reality because the evaluation system used is considered one of the most rigorous in the nation. But like most controversial issues in education, there's more to the story than initially meets the eye. The firings included 165 teachers for poor performance and the rest for lack of proper teaching credentials. These constituted 6 percent of the district's 4,300 teachers. Rhee put an additional 737 on notice that if they don't improve next year, ...


The Newsweek cover story proclaimed a creativity crisis exists in schools that threatens America's future ("The Creativity Crisis'). The report bases its conclusion on a steady decline since 1990 in scores on a creativity test first designed by E. Paul Torrance in 1958. The test, which involved a series of tasks, was given to a group of some 400 third graders. These tasks are considered the gold standard in the field because of their high predictive value. According to Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University, the correlation between scores on the test and lifetime creative accomplishments is more than three times ...


The debate over how to improve educational quality for all students in this country is predicated on the assumption that empiricism rather than ideology will eventually prevail. But a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe by Joe Keohane calls that belief into question ("How facts backfire," July 11). "Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our mind," he wrote. "In fact, quite the opposite." Keohane goes on to cite a series of studies in 2005 and 2006 by researchers at the University of Michigan showing that facts can actually make misinformation stronger. The reasons for this counterintuitive finding range ...


A little more than a decade ago, James Traub wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine with a provocative title that I still remember ("What No School Can Do," Jan. 16, 2000). He argued that even the best schools are limited in what they can accomplish with students. Although Traub was primarily referring to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, his comments apply to other students as well. I was reminded of this piece the other day when I was at the dog park. Parents often bring their children there while they allow their pets to blow off steam. ...


Corporate leaders have repeatedly demanded that teachers be paid strictly on the basis of the performance of their students because that's how the "real world" works. Yet even when they miss their goals, top executives continue to receive fat paychecks, including generous bonuses. Curiously, this double standard is given short shrift in the debate over school reform. In the summer and fall of 2007, the Securities and Exchange Commission sent letters to 350 corporations to gather information about how executive pay is determined. The SEC expected full cooperation in light of of public anger over the issue. But instead, it ...


The role that poverty plays in learning is so well documented by now that it seems superfluous to raise the issue once again. But the cover story in the latest edition of The Nation serves as a powerful reminder that the worst is yet to come ("Inequality In America And What To Do About It"). Six essayists lay out the dire consequences for the country of the Great Recession and of the failure to take steps to address its fundamental causes. The implications for schools stand out because narrowing the academic achievement gap between racial groups has become a top ...


Dueling views about innovative programs aimed at improving educational quality are nothing new. What is different today is taxpayer demand for evidence to support these proposals. Two recent essays about Teach for America, which was started by Wendy Kopp in 1989, serve as cases in point. On July 10, the Wall Street Journal published "What They're Doing After Harvard" by Naomi Schaefer Riley, and in Spring 2010, Rethinking Schools published "Looking Past the Spin: Teach for America" by Barbara Miner. (Full disclosure: I weighed in on TFA in the September 2008 issue of The School Administrator with "Top Collegians Won't ...


The demands of the new global economy have led school reformers to place overwhelming emphasis on math and science, and to a lesser degree on reading. There is no doubt that these are vital subjects to be mastered. Strangely, however, little attention has been paid to the importance of learning a foreign language, probably because English is considered the lingua franca. This strategy is a big mistake. While fluency is the primary goal of foreign language instruction, it should not be the sole objective by any means. There is also the matter of learning about the cultural values of the ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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