Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Federal Government and Education Research

Harvard is hosting a brief conference for grad students tomorrow (Friday) but they started off with a panel discussion on the state of education research tonight. The panel was highlighted by Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, the head of the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), which basically distributes all of the money the federal government devotes to educational research. He has been hailed by some for reforming education research and making it more rigorous and respectables, and reviled by others for limiting the scope of educational research to certain topics and methodologies.

I won't say that all 90 minutes of the panel was enthralling, but a number of interesting points were made. These include:

-Whitehurst noted that the education research community is not a powerful interest group in political discussions of policies surrounding education research. I've definitely noticed that. When you factor in that teachers and principals don't have much say in this either, it really makes you wonder who is controlling education research.

-There was much discussion of the fact that too much education research is not useful for people in schools, but few solutions offered.

-Whitehurst said that he made the decision to focus research funding on studies of academic achievement not because other things aren't important but because they have a very limited amount of money and want to do one thing well before moving on to others. While I'm not convinced they couldn't throw a few million dollars toward other desirable outcomes of schooling, I'm heartened to hear that it has been considered and would say the decision seems rational.

-In the face of severe criticism from Mica Pollock, a professor at Harvard, Whitehurst emphasized that neither he nor the department believe that only quantitative methods or randomized field trials are worthwhile (although he did seem to imply that RTFs answer more interesting questions). This sentence means nothing to you if you're not in education research but, basically, he refutes claims that many have made that he prioritizes certain types of research at the cost of other types that are more appropriate for certain questions.

No comments: