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U. S. Department of Education Pushes Their Version of Science One Step Further

Scientifically Based Research Supported by U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education has come one step closer to ensuring that teaching and learning in the nation's classrooms are based on solid, empirical educational practices. Under a joint effort with the department, the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy today issued a report calling for a major, department-wide effort to fund studies that randomly assign students to treatment and control groups, to establish what works in educating American children.

The report was discussed today at a major policy forum in Washington with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and senior officials from the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Justice; the Office of Management and Budget; congressional education committees; and major education advocacy groups.

The report notes that the U.S. has made little progress in raising K-12 educational achievement over the past 30 years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and proposes randomized controlled trials as a key to improvement. The report also recommends that the department provide strong incentives for the widespread use of educational practices proven effective in such randomized controlled trials.

"A central concept in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is that federal funds should support programs and strategies that are backed by scientifically based research," said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. "This report offers specific, valuable recommendations for implementing that concept in an effective way, so as to spark cumulative advances in the quality of American education."

Randomized trials have identified a few highly effective practices in areas such as early reading instruction and school-based substance abuse prevention. However, according to "Bringing Evidence-Driven Progress To Education: A Recommended Strategy for the Department of Education," these instances of proven effectiveness are rare, because randomized trials are uncommon in educational research. Meanwhile, the study designs that are commonly used produce erroneous results in many cases, according to evidence discussed in the report.

Unlike education, randomized trials in medicine, employment and welfare policy, and other fields, are considered the "gold standard" for evaluating the effectiveness of interventions. In medicine, they have produced extraordinary advances in human health. For example randomized trials in medicine helped to bring about a decrease in coronary heart disease and stroke by more than 50 percent over the past half-century.

The report also notes that medicine also provides important examples of how even the most careful non-randomized studies -- such as those investigating Hormone Replacement Therapy -- can sometimes produce erroneous conclusions and lead to practices that are ineffective or harmful.

"Bringing Evidence-Driven Progress To Education: A Recommended Strategy for the Department of Education" is the product of a collaborative initiative between the department and the coalition and is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation. The report reflects extensive input from department officials and staff, but its final conclusions and recommendations are those of the coalition.

The coalition is a nonprofit organization, sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government. Its bipartisan board includes former government officials David Kessler (former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner), Robert Solow (Nobel laureate in economics), Jonathan Crane, David Ellwood, Ron Haskins, Diane Ravitch, Laurie Robinson, and Isabel Sawhill. The board also includes leading scholars, researchers, and other individuals representing a broad range of policy areas.

— David Thomas
Scientifically Based Research Supported by U.S. Department of Education
U. S. Department of Education, Office of Public Affairs


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