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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our Children--Only Pawns in Their Experimental Game

"We will have the willingness to try new things and be wrong — the type of humbleness to say, I have no idea whether this will work, but I’m going to try." --Dr. Roland Fryer; 9/24/08

Perhaps discouraged by the refusal of NYC children to respond to financial incentives by actually performing better as opposed to just taking more tests, Dr. Fryer is returning to Boston to head something called the "Educational Innovation Laboratory" (see the splashy EdLabs website).

Dr. Fryer laments that billions are spent researching drugs and developing airplanes, while little is spent “to scientifically test educational theories.” Thus his friend, Eli Broad, (see picture above) and the Broad Foundation are helping him with the first $6 million of a $44 million, 3-year, “research and development initiative” that will have EdLabs “partner” with NYC’s Department of Education, the Chicago Public Schools, and the District of Columbia Public Schools.

What does this “partnership” mean? EdLabs will “connect” top academics from various fields with its own “R&D teams that will be embedded in these three school districts.” (emphasis added). There, the EdLabs folks will “foster innovation and objective measurement of the effectiveness of urban K-12 school district programs and practices” and “quantify the expected "student return from an investment" (sic.) to help leaders direct their limited resources into high-return programs and initiatives.”

In other words, the cheerleader-in-chief for market-oriented education strategies will evaluate the results of programs devised by ideologically aligned education officials, his own teams or even himself (such as the preposterous scheme to reward student performance with cell phones, which apparently has collapsed.). This passes as “rigorous research.”

When a drug company funds research to study the safety and efficacy of its own product, we have no difficulty understanding that conflict of interest is a problem and means the results are suspect. Imagine what credibility a drug study would have if the research team actually included drug company personnel! And would anyone even entertain the suggestion that the head of Philip Morris USA’s Youth Smoking Prevention Program should be included in any study of teenage smoking?

The incestuous relationships in this new initiative would not be tolerated in a scientific study involving drugs or other products. That the proposal is made with a straight face by people who are smart enough to know better shows the utter contempt they have for our children. This is fundamentally a business enterprise, not a serious attempt to evaluate educational strategies by standards that are applied to scientific research. Calling it a “lab” and putting it at Harvard doesn’t cleanse it of this taint.

And here’s the kicker for all us parents and taxpayers. The Broad Foundation is committing a mere $6 million in “jumpstart” funds--where do you suppose the other $38 million will come from? Need I say it? EdLabs’ sources of support include “the three participating school districts.”

-- Paola de Kock

1 comment:

Alexander said...

You're missing the big problem with this kind of experiment.

How do you know which one works best? Obviously, using regression modeling. After all, he's an economist. So, what will be dependent variable be? Obviously, some standardized test.

Will it be a test designed an validated for the purpose for which they are using it? Of course not.

Will they care?

Of course not.

Will they acknowledge this massive methodology and psychometric problem?

Of course not.

Will anyone in the media notice or care?

I leave that last one for the reader to figure out own his/her own.