Between Educational Research and the Public, a Cloud of Misinformation

Walt Gardner, blogging at Education Week, has posted “Esoteric Formulas and Educational Research,” concluding (with a focus on the complex formulas used in pursuit of value added methods of evaluating teachers):

“The point is that we are too accepting of research that relies heavily on esoteric formulas. I want evidence to support conclusions about educational issues. But the evidence has to be understandable. Just as legal contracts now are increasingly written with consumers in mind, I hope that educational studies will do the same in the future. Taxpayers are entitled to know if students are being well taught, but they can’t make that judgment when they are given incomprehensible data.”

I would suggest that the greatest problem related to educational research is that a cloud of misinformation exists between good educational research/data and the public; and that this cloud is created by political leaders, think tank advocacy groups, and the media [1] who all either do not understand stats or purposefully misuse stats. I also believe some see the world only through a technocratic lens (such as the pursuit of VAM)—also a huge failure of applying appropriate paradigms in different contexts. Larry Ferlazzo has recently cited Nate Silver, who recognizes VAM as misguided: “There are certainly cases where applying objective measures badly is worse than not applying them at all, and education may well be one of those.”

Democracy and the market both work best for the public good when the public and consumers are informed. Political leaders, think tanks, and the media do no one any good by continually being inept themselves (and dishonest) in the use and misuse of research to drive political agendas or advance their own brand.

Some excellent resources to confront how badly educational research is portrayed for the public see the following:

Bracey, G. W. (2006). Reading educational research: How to avoid getting statistically snookered. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Molnar, A. (2001, April 11). The media and educational research: What we know vs. what the public hears. Milwaukee, WI: Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation. Retrieved from http://epsl.asu.edu/epru/documents/cerai-01-14.htm

Yettick, H. (2009). The research that reaches the public: Who produces the educational research mentioned in the news media? Boulder, CO and Tempe, AZ: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved from http://epicpolicy.org/publication/research-that-reaches

[1] See chapters on the media in two of my most recent books: Parental Choice? and Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.

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