Education… Science

For a generation, educators have claimed to be “data-driven.” Ostensibly, they seek to ground their decisions and policies in measurable observation, but their constructs are dubious, their measures invalid and unreliable, and their analysis sloppy. Data are selected to If the debate surrounding the Common Core is so dissimilar to science, the reasonable question becomes, then: “Do we really need to regard education from a scientific perspective if it is a political problem and solution?” My answer is, “yes,” and I base this answer on three reasons:

1) The purpose of education is to help people learn. Learning is a natural physiological process of the human brain. That nature defines the rules within which educators (and education policy makers) must play.  While it might be convenient for policy makers to define test scores as a measure of learning, if test scores are a weak measure of learning, then that is the nature of our universe, and the policy must be adjusted. 

2) Education has broad and diverse goals in our society: free and appropriate education for all. Despite the connotation of “standard” education, most recognize that “one size fits all” education is not what most students need. That suggests we recognize contingencies in education, just as scientists recognize contingencies. Science has centuries of managing contingencies, so we can learn from the best. 

3) While claiming to be “data-driven,” educators are incredibly sloppy with our collection, analysis, management, and reporting of data. Our sloppiness derives from blind acceptance that tests measure what they proportion (and other unchallengeable assumptions). Our sloppiness derives from our reliance on single measures; triangulation (support from three independent measures) is where scientists begin to draw conclusions. 

I am in favor of a rigorous education research community, a vibrant education policy debate, and a strong educational practice community. All are required in 21st century society. Each should learn from the other, but the educational research with it’s reasoned evidence must be the arbiter of all disputes and judge of all rhetoric.