Success in evidence-based reform: The importance of failure

The latest blog post from Robert Slavin, a Professor in the IEE and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, considers the large number of randomised experiments evaluating educational programmes that find few achievement effects. This is a problem that will take on increasing significance as results from the first cohort of the US Investing in Innovation (i3) grants are released.

At the same time, the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK, much like i3, will also begin to report outcomes. It’s possible that the majority of these projects will fail to produce significant positive effects in rigorous, well-conducted evaluations. However, there is much to be learned in the process. For example, the i3 process is producing a great deal of information about what works and what does not, what gets implemented and what does not, and the match between schools’ needs and programmes’ approaches.

Is education research looking at the right issues?

A new report published by the Aspen Institute considers how US federal policy influences education research. The report includes a useful summary of the way that the federal government funds education research through a plethora of agencies. This is followed by a series of essays looking at ways in which this might be improved in the future. In his essay, Robert Slavin suggests some potential new directions for education research. “Research, evaluation, and dissemination of effective approaches should be the cornerstone of progress in America’s elementary and secondary schools,” he says.

Source: Leveraging Learning: The Evolving Role of Federal Policy in Education Research (2013), The Aspen Institute.

Education Media Centre starts work

The launch of the PISA survey also marked the start of a new initiative in the UK – the Education Media Centre (EMC).

The EMC aims to improve the public and media understanding of education research and evidence. It does this by making it easy for the media to access useful academic and research expertise on the education stories they are covering in newspapers, on radio, TV, and the internet.

The ultimate goal is to raise awareness and knowledge of this research amongst the public. The EMC is a project of the Coalition for Evidence-based Education, an alliance of researchers, policy makers and practitioners who are interested in improving the way research evidence is used, and exchanged, across the sector.

Do you live in a “geek city”?

Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives”, a paper from Results for America and The Bridgespan Group, highlights some of the top cities using evidence and data to get better results for citizens. The paper includes information on how cities like London, Baltimore, and Denver are measuring what works, building the evidence base, investing in what works, and budgeting for what works. Based on lessons observed in these cities, the authors make recommendations for city leaders, as well as for federal, state, and philanthropic partners, who want to increase the use of data and evidence to “spur urban innovation”.

Source: Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives (2013), The Bridgespan Group.

Tailoring evidence-based reform to different problems

Robert Slavin, professor at the Institute for Effective Education and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, focuses his latest blog post not just on reading, writing, and arithmetic, but on the sometimes harder-to-define problems of education, such as managing resources and cultivating relationships.

He says, “Is there anyone out there who thinks that it is not important to identify effective and replicable approaches to teaching reading, algebra, and all the other relatively easy-to-define, easy-to-measure problems of education? Yet solving these does still leave some very important but less-well-defined problems that may take different approaches. These approaches should still be informed by evidence, but perhaps different types of evidence from the design-build-evaluate-disseminate model that usually leads to proven and replicable approaches to reading or algebra, if anything does.”

Innovation in education and medicine

“Education research is as likely as medical research to lead to profound breakthroughs in practice and outcomes in the coming years.” That is the conclusion of the latest blog post from Robert Slavin, professor in the IEE and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, in which he discusses similarities and differences in the way evidence affects, or could affect, education and medicine.

To support his conclusion, Slavin offers several reasons why, with greater support, education research could have at least as profound an impact on education outcomes as medicine or public health do on health outcomes. For example, he says, “Education research is easier to do than medical research. The unlikelihood of serious negative side effects is one reason. Another is that because pretests in education are so highly correlated with post-tests, we can accurately predict what students would have achieved without treatment, making it easier to do studies.” Ultimately, Slavin says, “When we build up a stock of proven programs and have the support of government for using them, watch out. Education could show medicine a thing or two about how to improve outcomes on a national scale using rigorous research and innovation.”