NEPC Report: Federal Ed Policy Relies on Shaky Research

When forming federal policy, the Department of Education relies too much on speculative theorizing and other work that falls far short of the high-quality research available in the field, according to a new policy brief published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The brief, ‘Productivity Research, the U.S. Department of Education, and High-Quality Evidence,' examines several documents that the Department of Education promotes on its website as resources for school districts to live within an environment called the "New Normal." This environment includes tight budgets for years to come combined with new and more stringent demands, all of which will require schools to "do more with less."

The brief's authors are Bruce Baker, an NEPC fellow and a professor at Rutgers University, and Kevin Welner, NEPC's director and a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. They found that:

"…that neither the materials listed nor the recommendations found in those materials are backed by substantive analyses of cost effectiveness or efficiency of public schools, of practices within public schools, of broader policies pertaining to public schools, or of resource allocation strategies."

The Baker and Welner brief concludes by claiming that the Department of Education "does students, educators and the public a disservice when it identifies non-rigorous resources of this type as ‘Key Readings on Educational Productivity.'"

The authors recommend a research agenda for the Department that would be more beneficial in providing more thoughtful information on improving educational efficiency, approaching inquiries "systematically and rigorously, with no unrealistic expectations that facile solutions will miraculously emerge."

They recommend that this can be accomplished by convening the nation's leading education experts to work with policy leaders and practitioners and establish an agenda for analyzing cost effectiveness, costs versus benefits, and the relative efficiency of alternative education proposals.

This would create an agenda that uses high-quality existing research to improve empirical methods and data; rigorously evaluates education reform models and disseminates the results of those evaluations; increases the understanding of education stakeholders—parents, taxpayers, teachers, administrators, and policymakers—in how to properly evaluate policies for cost-effectiveness and efficiency; and support the training of current and future scholars, say the authors.

12 20, 2011
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