We see the fluff, but where's the beef?
March 17, 2009
There's very little real evidence in Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed "evidence-based" education proposals, according to a review by the Ohio Academy of Science.
The Academy, which is particularly interested in science, technology, and engineering education, including STEM, examined the bibliography on which Gov. Strickland's education proposals are based.
"After a brief review of that document...it appears that most references are to political action or opinion reports; only a few articles appear to be from primary, peer-reviewed, refereed journals that the Academy would consider fundamental to understanding how children learn and how we should organize learning environments and pedagogy," wrote OAS Chief Executive Officer Lynn Elfner in a letter to the House Finance and Appropriations Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee.
The governor's assertion that his plan is based on expert education research is being scrutinized. For example, University of Washington education finance expert Paul T. Hill found little merit in the governor's assurances (see here).
In his letter to the subcommittee, Elfner offered the Academy's help finding experts qualified to judge the plan.
"When we looked at the list, it lacked a lot of the references we expected. It wasn't as rigorous," Elfner told The Gadfly. "Given the priority of STEM, I would have expected to see more than the references I already knew about."
The "research-based, evidence-based" assurances given to back up the governor's proposals, Elfner said in an interview, lacked studies based on cognitive science, learning, and brain mapping. Too many of the papers cited were policy-based discussions.
"I only saw one reference that had to do with cognitive learning and how kids learn and how we teach," he said. "If it's not based on the best science of learning we're kind of wasting our time."
How science is taught and how people learn, he said, are vital to effective science teaching. For example, the governor has called for smaller class sizes. But while smaller classes can help in science teaching, they are not enough in and of themselves. Teachers who teach poorly will do so in a class of 15 students. Good teachers who teach many more students will continue to teach well and those students will learn.
"They may have 30 kids and they're still doing a great job," Elfner said.
Elfner said Strickland has not done a good job of explaining his proposals. He is particularly skeptical of how proposed the so-called 21st century skills called for in the plan will be taught in the current configuration of schools. Others also are skeptical (see here).
It appears the governor and his education advisers decided on a course of action and then went looking for "evidence" to back it up, Elfner said.
"Here's an issue and here's a solution but they didn't define the problem. The biggest fault in public policy making is a poor job of defining the problem," he said.