Friday, October 20, 2006

Sorting through research on education

One of education's Achilles heels has been the underwhelming research upon which many practices and policies are based. Here's what education writer Alexander Russo has to say on the subject (from This Week in Education):

Fair or not, education research isn't held in very high esteem.

There are several reasons for this, of course. It lacks any truly prominent peer reviewed journals (like medical research's New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA). It's produced by a broad range of academic disciplines (economics and poly sci seem to be in vogue right now), as well as by an increasing number of think tanks and advocacy groups. There's little or no agreement on proper research methods. And it often seems obscure or irrelevant in terms of topic or sample size. It's settled very few debates.

In an attempt to help educators sort through existing education research, Johns Hopkins University has unveiled a new service: the Best Evidence Encyclopedia (or BEE), dubbed "the center for data-driven reform in education."

BEE looks at research on several hot topics in education -- from elementary math curricula to reading for English language learners -- and then assigns a Consumer Reports-like rating on the validity of the research on various programs. It also includes full-text reviews on each topic.

So the education world can add another arrow to its quiver of decision-making tools. (There's also another website that wades through edu-research: the What Works Clearinghouse, "established in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to provide educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with a central and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education.")


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