Education research is slowly developing towards a cold hard science. So argues the latest edition of the Harvard Education Letter, which explores the role of economic research in education policy. Ever since Milton Friedman first put forth his "human capital theory" in the 1960s, practitioners of the “dismal science” have slowly been taking an ever-growing interest in education. The trend accelerated with the advent of No Child Left Behind, when there were suddenly mountains of new data to be analyzed. Economists have now become some of the most influential voices in our field, questioning our assumptions about how best to spend education money, proposing new incentive structures for students and teachers, and offering hard proof about what actually works and what doesn’t. Now when President Obama speaks of “evidence-based reforms,” he means those supported by the research of economists, not psychologists, education’s previous intellectual establishment. On the whole this is a promising development, except in one important respect: Economists don’t know much about what happens inside the “black box” of the classroom--and that’s still the crucible for just about every education reform.
“The Invisible Hand in Education Policy,” by David McKay Wilson, The Harvard Education Letter, September/October 2009